x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Observing Life: how Hollywood made my name cool

Growing up with an unusual name elicited sniggers ... and some street-cred.

For some obscure reason, and after giving my brothers relatively mainstream names, my loving parents decided to call me Hugo.

I'm sure this would not have mattered a jot if they'd enrolled me at a high-class educational establishment, where I'd have assimilated with the Ruperts, Quentins and Charleses who roam the cloisters of those hallowed institutions.

However, possibly surmising it would instil steeliness in character, my folks instead packed me off to a bog standard comprehensive state school in my UK provincial hometown. Such was the roughness of this place, that if authorities had not made education compulsory, most of my classmates would probably have absconded to the fields to gather potatoes or stab each other with flick knives.

In such an earthy place, having an unusual name acted like a lure to the schoolyard bullies, who on occasion tried to make my life merry hell. Thankfully, though, there were smaller and punier kids, some wearing thick glasses or leg braces, to deflect most of these hard knocks.

Further ammunition was added by the fact that during my formative years, there were only two characters in the public sphere who were my namesake. The first was Hugo Agogo, a wild-haired mad scientist in a scratchily drawn cartoon called Batfink, which was a mainstay of Saturday morning's children's television schedules.

Then there was Hugo Sanchez, a Mexican footballer of moderate talent, whose main merit of note was his huge cascade of curly locks, which even outsized 1980s soccer's most famous exponents of the poodle perm - Kevin Keegan and Rudi Voller.

So, needless to say, neither Messrs Agogo nor Sanchez was held in high enough esteem by the youth of the day to elevate my social status in the classroom.

Yet by the time I reached adolescence, the rise of a certain German fashion house had begun to ameliorate the stigma attached to my name. Thanks to Hugo Boss, the maker of dapper suits and balmy fragrances, my name had an added chic European sensibility to it.

Many years later, when I emigrated to the Emirates, I found that with almost very nation on earth represented here, outlandish and unusual names are commonplace.

So while the odd Briton with working-class pretensions might stifle a snigger when I introduce myself, most people's eyebrows remain firmly in the unraised position as we go through the formalities of acquaintanceship.

In the past few weeks, I have added further credentials to my name, in that I now share it with a film by the finest director of his generation, Martin Scorsese.

So, aside from all the sustenance and birthday presents, I guess I owe my parents a certain debt for choosing such as an esoteric name as Hugo.

And if one day I'm blessed with offspring of my own, I'm sticking to the Scorsese theme - Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Shutter Island are possibilities on the baby names list.

hberger@thenational.ae