Half-listening to the radio in my car the other day, I picked up the start of a news story: “Jordan is calling for the repatriation of ancient manuscripts from Israel…”
Gosh, I thought, maybe she’s trying to reinvent herself as an intellectual in the wake of her second divorce. Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing she’s usually up to. I thought she preferred cavorting in Ibiza night clubs, if we’re to believe the tabloid newspapers.
I’d driven another mile before I realised that John Humphrys was not talking about the infamous Katie Price, aka glamour model Jordan, but the Middle Eastern nation.
It’s not the first time I’ve been confused by a country’s name. Years ago, at a dinner party, the whole table was held in thrall by the hostess’s account of domestic habits in Iceland. It was only when someone piped up “I didn’t know you’d been there for your holidays” that it emerged she’d actually been talking about Iceland, the popular frozen food chainstore. I’d been wondering how she knew so much about foreign shopping bags.
There’s something rather appealing about hijacking a country’s name for other purposes. I’m usually a traditionalist with babies’ names – I did after all choose Laura for my own daughter – but I rather like the growing trend for calling children after countries. India and China suggest elegant, dainty girls, while states’ names like Georgia and Alberta summon up a more robust, outdoorsy type. Nations terminating in a consonant sound more masculine. Israel, of course, and Chad have long been used as boys’ names, but Egypt and Sudan would be equally rugged. How refreshing it would be to see a little America and Libya holding hands in the playground, or Laos and Denmark playing tag. Report some of these events on the news and we could all believe that we’re living in a new, more peaceful age, at least for a pleasant, fleeting moment.