''The Blairs have a very bloody history''
Longstanding (or perhaps more accurately, long suffering) readers of Histomat might recall a brief discussion back in 2006 on George Orwell and Suffolk, where in the comment boxes Michael Rosen among other people joined in a speculative discussion about why Eric Blair chose the pseudonym 'George Orwell'. Today, perusing Spanish Diary by the forgotten socialist John McNair, who like Orwell went to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the Independent Labour Party contingent, I stumbled upon a passage which brings us much closer to the answer - McNair's recollections of a conversation he had with Orwell while out in Spain:
"Never mind about that; tell us, George, why you changed your original name, Eric Blair."
"Well, I hated the name Eric Blair. Eric seemed to smack of that phoney school story, 'Eric, or little by little' (Dean Farrar), and the Blairs have a very bloody history."
"But why George Orwell?" we enquired.
"I wanted a working-class name. George is good working-class, as you Geordies ought to know, and, of course, you've heard of the 'Orwell' - a good Suffolk proletarian river."
I like this quote a lot - both the bit about the River Orwell being 'proletarian', while Orwell was certainly onto something about 'the Blairs', at least if their modern descendants are anything to go by...