If I’m being honest I have always struggled with my name. I can still remember some of the big boys in school, usually named Steve or Paul, making fun of me.
Bottom right the young Maldwyn always ready with a witty response.
I’d often hear them calling ‘MALDWYN’ in deep, pre-pubescent voices from across the school playground. It got to the stage where I had a standard response. Having found out that the original Welsh name for the county of Montgomery was Maldwyn I would shout back at them, from a fairly safe distance I should add, ‘at least you’ve not got a county named after you’.
I think I was slightly exaggerating when I claimed that somehow the county had been named after me but trying to explain in detail the relationship between me and Sir Drefaldwyn would probably have been lost on my tormentors and anyway I was probably already running for home at that point.
For a little while having a slightly unusual name might have been an advantage. When I got my first break on the John Peel Radio show it helped me stand out a little. Most broadcasters would call me Maldwyn as in Baldwin and I’d have the opportunity to say, actually its Maldwyn as in Malcolm. Hopefully that helped underscore my name with them.
That cut no ice with Elton John who had such a difficult time remembering how to pronounce my name that he used to refer to me as Blodwyn!
Things changed significantly for the first time when I went to university. Students were far too busy to learn Maldwyn, so I became Mal. I used to bristle at first but by the end of my three 3 years there the only person calling me Maldwyn was my mum.
A rare picture of ‘Mal’ Pope studying at Cambridge.
Moving to London to be a rock star I did try some other names just in case. At one point I was Frank Pope or Max Pope. One of my managers wanted me to change my name and that of my band to ‘Jesse Dean and the Midnight Ramblers.’. It didn’t really work.
Even with an unusual name like Maldwyn I have still been involved in a case of mistaken identity.
Mistaken for the ballet dancer Maldwyn Pate in my early days at the BBC.
I remember back in the early 1980s being invited to a ‘meet and greet’ with the hierarchy of the BBC in Wales and being introduced to the then Controller. As this was some time after my glory years in the music business I was delighted to be there. On hearing my name The Controller asked me how my career as a ballet dancer in New York was going. It was only then that I realised there must have been 2 Maldwyn’s on the BBC rolodex. I not sure who was more disappointed, me for being invited under false pretences or them for missing out on some juicy tales from New York’s dance scene.
For a little while as I tried to get ahead in Welsh broadcasting I thought of embracing the Welshness of my name and adding to it as well. It’s a little known fact that a lot of Welsh broadcasters have fairly normal Welsh surnames like Evans, Davies or Thomas. To help them stand out or to help with confusion they often take an unusual second name, maybe based on the town or village where they were born. Others add an extra name. Take for example Wynford Vaughan Thomas. Would his reports have had as much gravitas if he’d simply been Wyn Thomas. I did try Maldwyn Parry Pope for a little while, but I soon forgot all about that when I went back to being a musician.
In recent years I have tried to reclaim my heritage name. I think I might have taken my lead from Taulupe Faletau. As a boy people struggled with his Tongan name so called him Toby. In recent years Taulupe decided that the time was right to take back his birth right and it’s amazing how quickly people have now come around to calling him Taulupe.
I have to say deciding my last album would by ‘Butterfly’ by Maldwyn Pope hasn’t been without its own problems. In fact as I have now accepted that its too late to change and I’ve gone back to just Mal I’m living with the legacy that some Radio stations are crediting my new records to my old name. This just confuses everyone and on streaming services I’m 2 completely different acts… and let me tell you no one searches online for Maldwyn.
There was a second reason I had considered when deciding to reclaim Maldwyn and that was a deeper understanding of the meaning of my name.
Maldwyn means bold friend, that’s not a typo it’s bold friend not bald friend. What an accolade. With Pope coming from the Latin for Father being the BFF or Bold Friend Father seemed a name to aspire to.
The Latin origins for the word Mal means ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Obviously a much easier name to comply with but nothing to be proud of.
But then I realised, actually being the ‘Bad Boy Pope’ might in the long run be something of a boost to my otherwise ‘goody goody’ image. If they are going to keep calling me the ‘Bad Pope’ then that’s how I’m going to be.
Names are important as they help with branding and public perception.. There are plenty of examples from the world of showbusiness. Would Hollywood have taken John Wayne so seriously if he’d keep his real first name Marion? Would Reg Dwight have sold as many records as Elton John. I’m told that when Lynn Mitell became a comedian after years being in bands he found work hard to come by. Once he changed his name to Owen Money the bookings came flying in.
Choosing the right name at the beginning is very important and this was certainly true for me this week.
Early one morning I looked onto the road and saw my car had a flat tyre. Now I do know how to change a tyre but the thought of getting the spare out of the boot and then taking it to the tyre shop sort of filled me with horror. Then I remembered seeing a Mobile Tyre Van. In fact I remembered seeing quite a few during lockdown but one of them stood out to me…Tyreman Sam.
With a quick look online and a quick text exchange Sam was at my doorstep sorting out my problem.
Now honestly, I don’t normally do this, but I found myself saying to Tyreman Sam, ‘Do you know what I do for a living?’. He looked at me a bit strange and said ‘No’.
Ok, he’s young and probably listens to dance music in the van. Next question…’Do you know what my biggest hit has been…so far?’ I always add ‘so far’ because a guy can still dream can’t he? ‘Fireman Sam’ I tell him. I can see him slowly moving away to a safe distance.
At this point I take out my phone, set it to video, grab the Tyreman and sing a brand new version of an old classic, changing Fireman Sam to Tyreman Sam. At the time I thought it was a stroke of genius. It was only when I looked back at the film I realised Tyreman Sam can’t wait to get in his van and escape.
Anyway, his name got him a job this week, so it certainly worked even though I probably frightened the life out of him!