Secret E-Diary

What’s in a name?

‘Actually, I take it as a compliment. Diva is a derivative of divine. That’s quite a title to carry around.’ – Calista Flockhart

No sooner I had finished typing my last diary entry when a furore broke out in the medical profession about what to call junior doctors. It seems to have been started by the Chief Medical Officer, either doing a bit of empire building, or advancing a cunning plan to divert the attention of the most junior doctors from more mercenary concerns.

Titles are, of course, very important. Bill Gallia, an eccentric judge I was remembering only recently, told me that he informed the Lord Chancellor’s Department he was not interested in becoming a High Court judge when ‘tapped on the shoulder’ some years ago. The Permanent Secretary, who was discussing the matter with him, said ‘I hope Lady Gallia will not be upset.’ ‘She’s not Lady Gallia. She’s plain Mrs Gallia,’ was Bill’s bemused response. ‘Precisely,’ said the old smoothie, with a twinkle in his eye. Bill, being Bill, took three days to get it and loved to tell the story afterwards. Needless to say, his appointment to the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court was announced speedily. Lady Gallia was, and remains, a rather forceful personality.

Anyway, whatever the Chief Medical Officer was up to, it naturally spread on the Twittersphere; itself a most aptly named entity. Apparently, GPs may not like being called general practitioners either. As someone commented, they have to go through such lengthy training nowadays that a term incorporating ‘consultant’ would be more appropriate.

Popping in to a well-known hostelry nearby, I saw a wonderful old friend, now a Circuit judge, who sits in outer London. Alexander Croston is enormously bright and was a feared cross-examiner: somehow, he got under the skin of any witness and revealed the thing most likely to make him or her veer off-piste and start some diatribe. Although holding views with a conservative hue, he is in fact a terrible softie and is much more likely to find someone burgling his house a job than he is to have them banged up for three years. However, as a judge, he has three bad faults: one, he always tells things as they are; two, he likes cases properly prepared and presented in a professional manner; and, three, he has no time for pointless prosecutions brought merely to satisfy some politically correct fad of the moment. As a result, he is much liked and respected by the Bar and is possibly a touch less popular with the powers that be unless they bump into him privately, when they largely agree with what he says.

‘William,’ he said in his wonderful booming voice, ‘have a drink!’ It was as much a command as an invitation. Indeed, he bought me several drinks and we discussed the news of the day and the topic of job titles inevitably surfaced. Alexander put my inchoate fears succinctly: ‘The point of modern job titles is to do anything other than tell you what people actually do. It acts as a sop to their pride. They can tell family, friends and quiz-show presenters that they do something incomprehensible but impressive-sounding. How many times do you have to ask people for further and better particulars when they tell you their job description? For instance, what on God’s fair earth is a “compliance officer”?’ I looked blank: ‘something to do with sadism?’

We moved from gin to wine at this point and he became even more concerned. ‘It doesn’t matter much whether you call someone a bus conductor or a revenue enhancement officer, and if it makes them feel happier, good luck to them. But, with a profession, calling some GP a consultant, however hard working the person is, may allow you to let him or her do things to you with strange pieces of equipment that any sensible person would only let a highly trained consultant wield.’

Then his soft look betrayed him. ‘It’s the title-holder who is the one who is really conned. If I were a junior doctor, I would realise the name of the game was to give me baubles in the shape of a grand title instead of a pay rise or decent working conditions.’ ‘Mind you,’ I countered, ‘I hadn’t actually realised that junior doctors could in fact be aged 60.’

‘Just like us!’ boomed Alexander. ‘Why don’t they call them senior juniors? Rumpole was a senior junior. So was I. Remember his name for QCs – Queer Customers. Juniors at the Bar, Senior and Junior, are justly proud of their ancient title. What’s come over the medics?’

William Byfield Gutteridge Chambers. William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.

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