Category Archives: Lesley Marcovich

Lesley Marcovich is a writing coach who helps people write their biographies through workshops.


No one invented peoples’ names; names simply developed and then expanded as the world became more populated. The history of names is a comprehensive one as not only did names advance differently in every country; naming customs within those countries kept changing from generation to generation.

Before William the Conqueror set out to ‘affix England to Normandy’ people were called simple names like Fox, Wildgoose, Smalldove, Toogood … What do you think yours might have been?

When standardised spelling arrived in later centuries names became more creative reflecting landscapes and trades among many other identifiable themes. Smalldove might instead now be known as Mary of the Wood and ToogoodJohn the Butcher. As villages and towns grew and more than one John appeared they had to find ways to differentiate the two.  This gave rise to names like John, son of Robert, which eventually evolved to John Robertson and so on.

Surnames became a requirement when rulers, starting back with William, began keeping census records for tax purposes.

Later on middle names further complicated things. At a time when children had a spiritual name plus a day to day name, the spiritual name was eventually adopted as a middle name. By the early part of the twentieth century, most people had middle names.

When doing your family genealogy you may find yourself hitting many roadblocks because your name could have changed several times over the centuries. My paternal surname ‘Byrne’, Gaelic for ‘raven’, was first O’Byrne, the ‘O’ standing for ‘son of’ or ‘God’.  My ancestors did however drop the ‘O’ at some point. If they were Christians they likely didn’t want to flaunt their spiritual devotion during times of religious suppression.

Have fun tracing your paternal and maternal family names to their origin; the history of these names will add a fascinating layer to your life story.  

Signed: Lesley from the Newmarket



Some of us can only imagine how bleak things must have been for our ancestors to leave the ‘knowing’ of their homeland and to set their sights on the uncertainty of the New World.

Maybe it was an accumulation of troubles that made them decide to leave: smallpox, suppression, debt, food shortages, religious persecution, plagues … Posters for their salvation flashed everywhere – ‘Come and own your own fertile land in North America!

If you write about your family’s immigration local genealogy societies based in the immigrant’s homeland can help you to describe their life there, as well as provide possible reasons as to why they left. This may seem easy to do but because country boundaries are forever changing as a result of conflict and other influences, especially in Europe, this can complicate your research and it may have you checking out several countries to trace your lineage.

Another thing is that alphabets can vary from country to country, and this can affect the spelling of names. Some names were spelled phonetically on forms and the immigrant then signed with an “X”. This “X” does not necessarily mean your ancestors were illiterate.

Speak to as many relatives as possible to pick their brain for information about your ancestors.  This is when you may have to draw from a pool of “already written” stories or archival sources that may depict your ancestors’ lives. Immigrating to a new country is a bold step to take. Much can be written here about courage, sacrifice, fear, uncertainty, weather, food, language, work, and nostalgia.

Dig deep into the psyche of your ancestors as you journey with them to the new lands they sought out so you could live and prosper today. Give your ancestors a regal place in your biography so that their faded names, grainy photos and X’s may blossom forever in your family tree.




English – where all rules have exceptions. Where sounds and letters hardly ever agree.

Where we ‘see a movie’ but we ‘watch TV’. Where a ‘fat chance’ and a ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing, and where a ‘wise man’ and a ‘wise guy’ are opposites. Where a bunch of consonants are often strung together with just one vowel to help us pronounce the word – like in the word ‘strengths’. And what about a double negative forming a positive, but a double positive not forming a negative … hmm, another exception.

And then we’ve got various countries pronouncing English differently; America, Britain, India, Australia, and where I’m originally from – South Africa. I still have a hard time saying ‘ba-na-na’. To me it’s still a ba-naa-na’. And what about the stuff English borrows from other languages?  ‘Hors d’oeuvres’, from the French, ‘robot’ from the Czechs.

What a tricky language to learn to write, and here we all are, with one foot in tradition and the other in creativeness, as we try to create a beautiful symphony of text, to express ourselves, to correspond.

Here’s to you, all you movers and shakers of the English language – Bravo! (By the way – that word is borrowed from the Italians).


When writing a biography treat other characters how you would like to be treated if they were writing about you.

It’s a juggling act because you don’t want to downplay your story by fudging the truth of how your grade four teacher threw a box of pins at you, but always be aware of the consequence of writing disparaging remarks about people who could take offense to, or, in extreme cases, legal action, against you.

When you write your bio you have the opportunity to show your evolution throughout your story; your other characters do not have this same privilege, so don’t tell the part about how Stretch Raubenheimer fell and damaged his …. while streaking through the caf without first asking Stretch how he feels about this incident or his scarred …. in the spotlight after all these years.

Try not to use your biography as a revenge platform either, like Shania Twain indiscreetly did in ‘From This Moment On’, for that may come back to bite you one day. Telling the truth about those honest-to-goodness baddies in your life may require a few creative writing skills, but it can be done with integrity and flare, leaving you proudly perched on the high road.

Be aware and handle characters with care.


Mean people, nice people, peculiar trends, awful tragedies; these things keep us involved in our lives.

Without villains there are no heroes, without creepy relatives – no normal ones, without disasters – no rescuers, without hate – no love.

Life is about conflict – conflict with ourselves, with others, with our divinity.

Write it all! Write it all! Write it all! … You can always wash your hands afterwards.


To find happiness we try to connect with our body, tame our ego, resign judgement, conquer fear, and live in the moment. But how can accomplish these things without first examining the sensations in our body, the nature of our ego, the basis of our judgement, and the origin of our fear, and the events that brought us to this moment?

Before we set out on our quest for happiness we need to master Self-Understanding, a vital quality which, in itself, will put a twinkle in our eye and a smile on our face.  And this we can do through writing.


Writing your story gives you the opportunity to challenge your readers, your talents and social order.

We are all born with the gift of language and communication but unfortunately our words become entombed by political correctness, etiquette and piddly details. Your story will help you to free those words and to experiment with language and ideas, to think limitlessly, to confess, to role-play, to eat dirt, to brag, to gamble, to poke fun at, to empathize, and to create.

As you take off your muzzle and show your teeth you run the risk of tarnishing your reputation, but the good news is – you will be known and revered as being ‘one helluva character who rose to the challenge of telling it like you see it!’

This is your opportunity to break the shackles, walk proudly on centre stage and announce, ‘This is me!’ And as Buddha said, ‘If you don’t like what I have to say, you’re welcome to leave my house (theatre).’