I did a lot of work on tracing my family tree in the past, and still turn back to it occasionally to fill in the odd gap. In recent times a distant relative has added some pictures of my great-grandfather to his online tree. I was really pleased to see them as I’d often wondered what he looked like. Now, the same person has put up a picture of one of my great-grandfather’s sons – my grandad’s brother.
His name was Charlie, but my relative said he was always known as ‘Wag’. When I contacted him about it he said he didn’t know why, but he thought that it was common for people named Charlie to be called Wag.
This was news to me, but I looked it up and it is – or was – true. No one seems absolutely sure how it arose, but the best explanation seems to be that there was a a Victorian music hall character called Charlie Wag, leading to Charlies in general being jocularly referred to as a Charlie Wag, and eventually just Wag.
While I was at it I decided to try to get to the bottom of a similar naming conundrum that had always intrigued me: why people called John were known – more so in earlier generations – as Jack.
The explanation seems to be that Jack is a diminutive form of the Middle English name Jankin, which in turn means “Little John” (presumably a child who is the “kin” of Jan/John).