Names are important. Names can define an object, place or person. Let me explain.
It has been suggested that the name Ramsgate comes from the Anglo-Saxon words meaning ‘Raven’s cliff gap’ which references the shape of the gap between the cliffs. However, what if we turn our mind to London our capital, in the Victorian period? What if we think of a set of murders that happened there and at that time? Would the murderer called 'Jack the Ripper' still haunt us now, 130 years on, if the murderer was called something else? Would the name have reached the ears of the monarchy, which in turn, caused a few headaches for renowned senior policemen at that time?
Well-known policemen such as Sir Henry Smith, the Assistant Commissioner of the City of London Police at the time of the Whitechapel murders, gave us a vivid description of travelling to the murder scene of Catherine Eddowes:
"Another murder Sir, this time in the City". Jumping up, I was dressed and in the street in a couple of minutes. A hansom – to me a detestable vehicle – was at the door and into it I jumped, as time was of the utmost consequence … we got to our destination – Mitre Square – without upset, where I found a small group of my men standing round the mutilated remains of a woman.
After being at the murder scene, Sir Henry was known to have travelled to Goulston Street, where it was suggested that the killer had left a message in chalk with a piece of Catherine’s apron being placed nearby. He also gave us an interesting quote, by saying "Yes, the Ripper had all the luck", suggesting that the murderer may well have been devilish, may well have been clever, but in this policeman’s eyes, the murderer was also very lucky.
But what if this well known policeman wasn’t who we all thought he was? What if 130 years of writing about him in articles and books we have actually got his name wrong? Because when is Henry, not actually, a Henry? From birth apparently …
After much researching in my book, Jack and Old Jewry: The City of London Policemen who Hunted the Ripper, it was found that this policeman who was involved in the well-known Whitechapel Murders case was actually born William Henry Smith. After all this time a name that defined a man, that defined a policeman and parts of our study of the Jack the Ripper case has changed before our very eyes, making us question if that is the case, what else don’t we know about well known people of history? How amazing is a name, that can make us want to research further to see what else we can find? That is how important a name is.