What’s in a name?

It’s all about the mummies at the British Museum. To be honest, it’s usually mostly about the mummies, but the Ancient Lives exhibition has really meant that these long-gone Ancient Egyptians really are centre stage.

A celebrity endorsement didn’t hurt things either. You might have seen a certain Global Songstress wind her way around the galleries. 

But with all this attention on them, I couldn’t help but notice that there’s been a bit of a name change. No, I’m not talking about “Katypatra” or whatever character Katy Perry is becoming this week. I’m talking about one of the mummies.

Who knows what this guy is called?

The Gebelein Man ("Ginger")
The Gebelein Man (“Ginger”)

This is the Gebelein Man. Sometimes known as “Ginger” due to his distinctive tufts of red hair. But, but, but… nowhere is there any evidence of this affectionate nickname. Yes, it was only an informal way of speaking about him, but many members of the public (the ones that speak to me at least) often ask where Ginger is.  So why has his name been changed to something that’s hard to wrap your mouth around?

Well,  what does one do when one has a question? They turn to Twitter.

And, naturally, the people of the twitterverse responded.

This I can understand – he was a human being after all, but the ‘Ginger’ name was never meant in disrespect, it came out of a feeling of affection. Although it’s not a scientific or technical name, the mummy has developed a kind of second life, one that seems to be ignored by the museum.

However, there were other interpretations…

The Museum themselves even waded in, which was fantastic…

Alas, I’m still to hear from Neal, but he’s not an avid tweeter, so there’s still hope!

But have the Museum ever called Ginger Ginger?

Maybe not officially, but they have made mention of this name in official documents…

That review, in case you were wondering, can be found right here.

Of course, the best place to look is the British Museum’s official record for the Gebelein Man. No mention of his other name at all. Maybe all the scrutiny he’s under now, what with his virtual autopsy and everything, the museum is trying to be both respectful and maintain a scientific distance? Calling him Ginger humanises him in a way that might make it uncomfortable to look and study him…

Or maybe, it’s like the wise poet Tim Minchin says “Only a ginger can call another Ginger Ginger”…

Human remains in museum is still a thorny topic, so if you want to go a step further and find out what the museum’s policy on them is, you can find it over here.

Ginger is usually on permanent display but at the moment he’s part of the Ancient Lives exhibition, which is fantastic. Utterly fantastic. Go and see it if you haven’t already!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Jack! Thanks for including my tweets in your blog. I’m an Interpretation Officer at the BM and at the moment I’m working on the redisplay of the Early Egypt Gallery. There are actually several individuals’ remains from Gebelein, and the one sometimes known as ‘Ginger’ will be back on display in room 64 when it re-opens soon.

    I spoke to Daniel Antoine about the names, and he told me that he’d suggested using ‘Gebelein Man’. Like ‘Lindow Man’ the name reflects the site where the remains were found. The British Museum had previously formally used ‘Predynastic Mummy’ (which I think is even more of a mouthful!)

    I think it’s great that the public feel such connection to this man. It’s interesting to think about whether using a nickname might do more to humanise him for visitors.

    Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Hi Ellie, thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth comment. It’s good to know that he’ll be back in room 64 soon.

      Thanks for speaking to Daniel, that was interesting to read, and yes Gebelein man is a lot better than Predynastic man!

      Thanks again for your comment, I look forward to more twitter conversations with you 🙂

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