Personalised gifts are all the rage at the moment and it’s not hard to see why shoppers would want something to give their items a special little touch, but this trend started from a much more functional place. Personalisation began as a way of identifying items and, even before that, people. The history of names is so ancient that it is impossible to start at the beginning; it is a fair assumption that the earliest forms of man were assigned some sort of title in order to identify one another and names are apparent in the past as far back as oral history reaches. Unlike today’s method of choosing a name that sounds good to the parents, most of the earliest forms of names recorded have some sort of descriptive meaning. Notable examples of this can be found in historical Irish-Gaelic names such as Conan, meaning hound or wolf, Aed, meaning fire, Fial, meaning modest, honourable and generous, and Finn, meaning fair, bright and white. Then when civilisations began to worship divine beings names began to be derived from gods, for instance the Norse god Thor was used to create ancient Norwegian names such as Thorbjorn, Thorkell and Thordis.
This trend in using deities and prophets as name inspiration grew with the rise of Christianity and certain trends in naming practices manifested. Christians we encouraged to call their children after saints and martyrs of the church and the earliest examples such as Mary, Martha, Matthew, James, Joseph and John were all Jewish. Later in the Roman Empire many Greco-Roman names, such as Anthony, Catherine, Margaret, Mark, Martin, Nicholas and Paul, entered the Christian name pool, it will come as no surprise that these names stood the test of time and are still prevalent in today’s society. In 2019 Margaret made it to number 87 on the Huffington Post’s top 100 most popular names for girls, James was number 20 for the boys and John got to number 66. By the Middle Ages each culture had a customary name pool from which parents would select their child’s name but Christian influence on naming practices was still pervasive. Then in 1066 the selection of names used in England had a significant shift with the Norman conquest which brought names like Emma (number 55 in the Huffington Post’s top 100 girls names), Matilda (number 83), Henry (number 13 for the boys) and William (number 54) across from the respective name pools on the continent and, combined with the traditional Christian names already in use, make up the body of today’s name pool in the English language still prevalent today.
So when did it become so popular to personalise our belongings with our names, initials and inscriptions individual to us that identify a certain special item as ours? One of the earliest ID’s developed for an object was a vehicle’s number plate, and the first ever number plate to be released was ‘A1’ which was issued in London in 1903. Number plates in those days consisted of one or two letters followed by a number, the letters represented the city in which the car was registered and the significant cities of the time were given the opening letters. So ‘A’ signified London, ‘B’ was for Lancashire and ‘C’ for the West Riding of Yorkshire. However these letters quickly ran out and with new prevailing cities on the rise number plates were changed to start with a double letter, ‘AA’ representing Hampshire, ‘AB’ was for Worcestershire and so on. The letters ‘G’, ‘I’, ‘S’, ‘V’ and ‘Z’ were not used in England as they were reserved for Scotland and Ireland.
In 1932 the whole system was changed again to combat a growing population who were buying more and more cars, the old codes were quickly running out and a new method was needed for all the new plates. For a short time number plates changed to three letters followed by three numbers, but this assortment soon also ran out and by the 1950’s another new practice was needed. The government then changed the system to show numbers followed by three letters and, while personalised number plates didn’t become significantly popular until the end of the 90s, with this new arrangement it was easy to get creative and car owners began to think of personalising their cars with three letter words or initials. The government apparently predicted this at the same time as the new system was introduced and they thought it wise to ban certain words including ‘ARS’, ‘BUM’, ‘GOD’, ‘JEW’, ‘SEX’ and ‘SOD’, as well as ‘DUW’ due to it being the Welsh word for God.
Today we are fortunate enough to be able to be offered personalisation with almost any item we buy, personalisation is big business the world over and it’s not hard to see why. In a mass produced world shoppers are craving something individual, unique and exclusive to them or a loved one and adding a name, initials, date or chosen inscription is the perfect way to add that special touch.