The piercing etymology of Pearce

I want something named after me.

It’s natural, at my time of life. One wants to be remembered.

I’m halfway there with a name like Pearce.

If I persevere I’m sure I can people to adopt Pearce instead of pierce. A hundred years from now someone will ask: “I wonder why they call it ‘pearcing’ wit?” and Ñ bingo! Ñ they’ll go to the dictionary and it’ll say: named after 20th century columnist Colin Pearce (1944–2064), who was noted for his brilliant sense of humour.

It was Edward Vernon who put me on to it. He was born 200 years ago, but he’s still remembered. Every time anyone mentions grog they’re remembering Edward Vernon. he was an admiral in the British navy, and in 1740 he introduced the rum ration, received daily by every sailor, and known fondly, if drunkenly, as grog.

Why? Because Admiral Vernon used to wear a cloak made of a silk and wool mixture known as grogram; and when he lurched past in the corridors of power, his cloak billowing, his friends (and his enemies, too, no doubt) would refer to him as “Old Grog” after the cloak.

Just as well, really. If he hadn’t had a nickname we might, today, be nipping down to the bottle shop for some Vernon. Doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Anyway, if he can be remembered for 200 years, so can I.

It’s happening all the time. Margaret Thatcher gave her name to an economics philosophy that turned everyone into capitalists (Thatcherism); if you write “pubic” when you mean “public”, it might be a Freudian slip, after Austrian psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud.

It’s everywhere you look Ñ even Townsville keeps alive the name of Robert Towns, the entrepreneur who founded us.

In fact Australia is right up there in the naming game (they’re called eponyms, by the way): Maria Ann Smith (an Ozzie gardener) gave her name to the Granny Smith apple; furphy, the Ozzie slang for a rumour, came from the name of the family that made water carts, lamingtons were named for Queensland Governor Baron Lamington, or his wife.

That’s a thought… maybe I should go for some kind of food association. I mean, beef Wellington was named after the Duke of Wellington (who also had a boot named after him), and peach melba celebrates Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba.

My wife says you have to have done something worthwhile to get these kind of honours, but she’s wrong. We still honour, if that’s the words for it, a 19th century criminal, Patrick Hooligan.

And the real clincher is the story of Oscar Pierce (or is that Pearce?), an unknown Texan wheat farmer. Or he was until 1931 when Margaret Herrick, librarian for the Academy Awards noted in passing that the golden statuettes looked like her uncle Ñ Oscar Pierce (or is that Pearce?).

Even animals get to enjoy the fame: we only have jumbo jets because someone named a 62-tonne elephant “Jumbo” at London Zoo in the 1800s. Until then the word didn’t exist.

So … if elephants can do it – I can do it.

I ran it past my wife.

“You wait,” said I. “In 100 years the world will be using p–e–a instead of p–i–erce, and our surname will be immortal.

“So that would be pearce as in sharp, or penetrate, or puncture?” she said.

“Exactly so!”

“As in prick, or bore?”

Back to the drawing board …