I was delivering newspapers the first time I caught sight of my own name on the front page.
It was 1994 and I was 17 years old, building up my savings before going to university by getting up early to do the paper round.
Despite the lurid headlines about a ‘House of Horrors’ on Cromwell Avenue in Gloucester, my sleep-deprived teen brain barely registered a problem.
Hardly anyone knew me as Rosemary anyway – I’d been Rosie to my friends for as long as I’d been able to register a preference – and today’s newspaper was tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping, after all.
How wrong I was. The horrendous tale of Fred and Rosemary West’s killing spree was the story of the year and ‘my’ name appeared on the front page of almost every newspaper I delivered for months on end.
By the time I picked up my A-Level results in August 1995, I knew I’d be going to university sporting the same name as a woman who was on trial for killing 10 young women together with her husband Fred, who had hanged himself in a Birmingham prison before he could be found guilty.
My parents were as bemused by the situation as I was. They’d only called me Rosemary so that I had a ‘serious’ name, rather than the nickname I’d always been known by.
But it was Rosemary West that appeared on my A-Level certificates, my provisional driving licence, and the information sent to the college I was to attend from September – and as a state school student with a place to study at Oxford, I already felt out of place.
At Freshers’ Week, I concealed my name as best I could – after all, who introduces themselves by their surname?
Hello, My Name Is…
It’s not easy having the same name as someone, or something, famous.
In Hello, My Name Is… series, we’ll hear the funny, surprising and frankly mundane stories of people whose parents really didn’t know what they were getting their children into.
In the end it was the White Book that outed me – a document handed round to every new student containing the full name, address and former school of each of their new peers.
‘Did you know there’s someone at this college called Rosemary West?’ laughed a new friend, as we relaxed one evening in the college bar.
‘It’s me, you idiot,’ I replied, recoiling under the barrage of laughter from seemingly everyone in the room.
Later that year, my application to join a university society was nearly rejected because the president decided it must be a jok
Enough was enough, and that summer I decided that I would change my name by deed poll.
As an impoverished student with a good reason for the decision, I was even able to do this for free under the legal aid scheme.
I returned to college the next year officially named Rosie Murray-West (Murray is my mother’s maiden name), and it’s the name I have used officially ever since.
My parents were extremely supportive – the whole situation was nobody’s fault after all – and even joked about changing everyone’s name to make it more distinctive.
Years on, and I barely think of my namesake, although since Rose West is still in prison the occasional story pops up in the press and startles me.
Of course the name is still relatively similar, and people occasionally refer to the murder case – if I’ve been asked if my husband’s name is Fred once, I’ve been asked a thousand times (it isn’t).
When I married in 2002, I took my husband’s name for all but professional reasons, meaning neither of our daughters carry my surname.
It’s only when I’m asked to prove my identity for official business that I have to produce a signed change of name deed from the summer of 1996, which always reminds me of my nervous 18-year old self signing her own name away out of fear of ridicule.
Who knows how my name has changed the course of my life? In this digital age it possibly benefits me to have a unique name – easy to find on Google – while I suspect the double-barrelled moniker did me no harm when applying for jobs in 2000.
Once I became a mother it was my parents I felt most sorry for over the whole affair.
I took great care over choosing my children’s names – I’d be so sad if they felt they ever had to change them.