In my research into the name Thurlow, it occurred to me that your name becomes who you are and has a far stronger influence on our lives than we imagine.

Photo of Clifford Thurlow shows that your name becomes who you are.

One summer in Cadaqués.

An article published in Psychology Today shows that people have stereotypical views of others based on their names. Names can reveal cultural values and locations as well as fashion. Names can influence personality and, more controversially, the decisions we make in our life.

When we meet strangers for the first time and exchange names, we provide clues to our ethnicity and social class. Jolyon and Camilla are more likely to have attended private school than Jason and Tracy. Your first name chosen by parents can reveal conformity in picking a common name or daring in selecting the unusual. Are those with historically strong names like George and Alexander more likely to row across the Atlantic than Tim and Cyril?

Recent research suggests that we grow to look like our names, according to a 2017 study where participants showed a high degree of accuracy when asked to look at photographs and guess the people’s names.

Some names are associated with criminals, due to the movies as well as famous crimes, while names as well as photographs on dating sites can lead to greater hits or rejections. The name Adolf was once common in German-speaking countries and spiked after Hitler came to power in 1933. Now the name is barely used.

Dylan is a given name and surname of Welsh origin meaning ‘son of the sea’ or ‘born from the ocean.’ The Welsh might like to think that the popularity of Dylan as a first name for girls as well as boys comes from a universal appreciation of poet Dylan Thomas, but it is far more likely that new parents have on Spotify song lists of the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan.

Gordon Allport, one of the founders of personality psychology, said in 1961, ‘The most important anchorage to our self-identity throughout life remains our own name.’ More than just your identity, your name becomes that person you acknowledge when you clean your teeth in the morning and your reflection looks back from the mirror.

Your Name Becomes Who You Are Clifford

My name is Clifford Edward Thurlow. I never use Edward except when filling in forms although I like it more than Clifford or the abbreviation Cliff. Clifford is hard to say and pinpoints too accurately the Anglo-Saxon origin – from Old English clif ‘slope’ + ford ‘ford’. The name is mostly from Devon, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire. It is rare in that there appears to be no Saint Clifford and, if there is, he never did anything of note.

My grandfather came from Devon and named his son Clifford Douglas Thurlow, my dad who, as tradition has it, passed on his first name to me. Grandfather had the rather eccentric name George Levi Connelly Pavit Thurlow. Levi is typically Jewish. Pavit is Hindu. Connelly is Catholic and belongs to an Irish clan from Galway – this melee of names concealing more than revealing his origins. We know he was a second son, never a good position to be in, and the first son whom we believe was named Henry Douglas Martin Pavit got the lot.

Grandfather George left Devon and moved alone to London about 1900 with nothing – legend has it – but driving skills and a cricket bat, both of which he put to good use, as a batsman for the Middlesex County Cricket Club and one of the first drivers on the electric trams that opened in 1901 with a service between Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, Acton and Kew Bridge. George Thurlow was tall, thin, reserved with blue eyes, fair hair and the chiselled features of Scandinavia. He fathered five sons and a daughter and lived in a small house in Edmonton, North London. I grew up nearby.

Thurlow Spellings

When the Norman king William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, his army consisted of mercenaries from Scandinavia who settled in England. Thurlow is believed to be a derivative or corruption of the Swedish names Thoney or Thorell, or the Norwegian Torald, Thoresen, Torvald, Thorsen or Thuresson.

Thor derives from the Norse God of Thunder and, alternatively, the word for ‘hill’.  Thurlow translated into Old English is Tryohlaw, meaning dweller by the hill. When Norman French was introduced to Britain in the 11th century, mediaeval curates spelled the names of illiterate parishioners according to their sound. Thurlow was alternatively penned Thurlough, Thurlowe, Thurloe, Thurlo, Thurlows or Thurles.

According to House of Names, the first Thurlow through wit, wisdom or fist to claim title as the Lord of the Manor was in Suffolk. This branch of the family supposedly descended from ‘Godric, the holder of the King’s lands of Great and Little Thurlow,’ according to the Domesday Book census in 1086 conducted after the conquest by King William. The village Thurlow at that time consisted of a church and 33 goats.

family crest for Thurlow says your name becomes who you areThe Thurlow motto lacks a certain je ne sais quoi: Justitiae soror fides – Fidelity is the sister of justice. I would have preferred something more enigmatic like the Mackenzie clan’s Luceo non Uro – I shine, but do not burn.

If your name becomes who you are, I should probably have studied divinity and taken vows. Circa 1330, John de Thurlow was a monk and scribe in St Albans. Thomas Thurlow (1737-1791) was the Bishop of Lincoln and Durham; the Very Rev Alfred Gilbert Goddard Thurlow (1911-1991) was an author and the Anglican Dean of Gloucester); while another Thomas Thurlow (1813-1899) carved his name into history as a sculptor with numerous works in churches in Suffolk. 

Edward Thurlow (1731-1806) was a Member of Parliament, 1765 – 1778. He served as Lord High Chancellor under four Prime Ministers and was made 1st Baron Thurlow.

Henry G Thurlow arrived in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1875. There are now 2,500 Americans with the surname Thurlow – all, I assume, my relatives and I would be happy to hear from them. You can leave a comment in the box below.

Looking back at these presumed ancient forebears is like chasing ghosts. With an author and scribe among them it is hardly surprising that I should have become a ghostwriter

















Posted in Blog.


  1. Interesting Clifford. Apologies but simply can’t refer to you as Cliff as the name conjures up images of Cliff Richard. Think it’s also all about name association, isn’t it? Always warn parents-to-be not to tell anyone about their chosen names as people inevitably tell them they can’t possibly call them “that” name as it reminds them of someone they disliked with the same name. And when presented with the name and see the baby, our opinions seem to invariably change and all memories wiped out….and the name appears to indeed, suit the baby! So, I have 2 names and answer to both as long as pronounced correctly. I now wonder which person I have grown into….am I a Janina or Nina? Think perhaps the latter! What is your preferred name? Happy New Year Cliff and do come &and visit us in Suffolk and attempt to reclaim your title as Lord of the Manor!

  2. and how about saints? here’s a story about St. Annette and her appearing to her friend Claire telling her she’d gone to hell and why.

    I sometimes have a vision of being kille in a car crash. As a 7 year old, i was dragged beneath a car when i was waiting to cross the road. happily, no lasting damage, but the headmaster made an example of me in school, in 1959! in 1967, in apartheid era South Africa i was flung out of of a car (no seatbelt) and rolled out into the road. Thank God there was no car driving in the opposite direction! it never made it to the headteacher, thankfully!

    My parents weren’t religious, neither were my brothers, although my mum was very compassionate and actually, a REAL Christian. She was much loved by others. Rather like St. Annette i had a brother with major addiction issues (drugs) who sadly never recovered despite various stays in rehab. He took his life in 2009. I loved him and never abandoned him, ditto with my family. He went to hospital, visiting many whose families had walked away. Well done, Eric!

    My parents and brothers died too young; all addiction related. Today, i follow Jesus in very practical, compassionate ways. Faith enabled me to survive a severe stroke last August. The same which killed my dad in 1962, at the age of 62. i was much fitter and less stressed than he’d been. At 71, i have dizziness but no lasting damage. I was on the operating table for 8 hours: I should have died, but didn’t.: a miracle! I thank my faith and my sobriety. Wow! fyi, one of my second cousins was Biskop olav Skjaevesland, the bishop of Agder in southern norway. he was appointed the Lutheran bishop of norway in 1998. Faith is in the genes! I met him twice, a good man. He died in 2018.

    My life has been complete synchronicity; in August I was in Southmead Hospital, Bristol, where my father was born in 1920. My NEW life began after the operation. it’s just so extraordinary and so humbling….. Peace to all your readers, Clifford!

  3. Another Annette and probably not a Saint, I would have said the ette part refers to small, and that I am, of Nordic origins and a tall father, mother and brother, I “grew” into my name….and stopped up short.

  4. I imagine the character traits of most women would already have evolved before they marry and, even though they change their surname, they will still have the roots of their progenitors.

  5. A fascinating subject to kick the year off with.

    I can just see you Clifford, wearing a habit, with quill and ink to hand!

    Indeed, if you were to ask a stranger, who comes to mind when mentioning Clifford, you would invariably get Cliff Richard from an over 50s and maybe Clifford The Big Red Dog from a millennial but not much else in between.

    Indeed, Clifford used to be quite popular in the 60s/70s but some names come in and out of fashion and your name may well be consigned to the bin of twentieth century has beens, like Algernon, Augustus, Gilbert and Digby. There are some names that remain resolutely steadfast over the years like John, Charles and James or Catherine, Anne or Mary, but no doubt your parents were lacking any originality, in the hope that the poor child was saved from playground bullies. No, you don’t want to stand out from the crowd.

    Certainly, what your parents end up calling you can put you at an early disadvantage. Imagine being called Norman – you certainly wouldn’t be going to public school, and unless you ended up like Norman Bates you’re destined for a quiet and humdrum life. Similarly, if you’re called Rodney or Stanley.

    As for girls, there’s a little more room for floral attributes but to be called Gertrude, Nora or Sharon is asking for typecasting from an early age. Sometimes you think, what on earth were the parents thinking! Some people are literally cursed from the day they are named. What really is unforgivable is being called Junior like Donald Trump Jr. – that really is asking for the couch.

    A name can take a lot of living up to – just ask a Jolyon. It’s requiring them to be forever jolly and standing out in the room – to be different. And then there are the invariable perplexed questions that follow: “Where does it come from and how did I come to get it?” Well, I tell them it’s a literary name (that generally throws them) and came from the Forsyte Saga, being the first serialised drama on the BBC where there were not one but two Jolyon’s (but no Jolyon Jr.!) and as a result there was a small spike of Jolyon’s in 1968. But just as it aspires to the upper-middle classes there’s also the character of Jolyon Wagg in the Adventures of Tintin who was an insurance salesman and a smug, self-satisfied champion of a bore. Now how he came to be Jolyon is up for debate. In the French editions he was called Seraphin Lampion and while names in Tintin are not always literally translated but rather turned into a different joke, Hergé wanted something sounding ‘puffed up’, at the same time someone who was “fleshy and weak.” The English translator obviously had it in for poor Jolyon and reduced him to the comical middle-lower classes.

    As for surnames, it is no wonder that in the pursuit of fame a stage name or nom de plume is sort for greater affectation and career advancement. It should be catchy and roll off the tongue, be hip and cool if not de rigueur – the name must proceed the person – they are living up to their alter ego and people are happy to go along with it – they have managed to get away from who they were christened and with a lot of relief for some, who’s careers would otherwise flounder. A name can be the difference between being fabulous and accepted, or mundane and listless.

    Some people are lucky enough to be born with a name that suits them and them it, so no psychological suffering erupts in the psyche and they can just be who they are, if not a trifle dull.

    As for most other people, they have to be content with either being Joe Bloggs or Jane Doe and get on with it, best they can.

    May we find happiness this year, even in the strangest of places.


  6. After reading, Cliff-Clifford’s newest thought-invoking piece and all the illuminating responses, I feel somewhat hesitant to post my own. Yet the many similarities of names and personalities I have experienced clearly must have the same validity as the astute observation that people who own dogs resemble their dogs. That you didn’t mention the most famous Clifford of all, ‘Clifford The Big Red Dog,’ might be an oversight or perhaps purposeful. Surely it is a reflection of the power of a name to sculpt a personality but I see two striking similarities between, ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog,’ and ‘Clifford the Ghost Writer.’ Both are much beloved by those who read their books. And both have had a positive impact upon the world and those around them.

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