The first time I saw this name it was in a mention of the Goon Show – probably in one of Spike Milligan’s books, but perhaps some other place; I believe it was in a bit of script, probably something like the following bit (from www.thegoonshow.net/quotes.asp):
Bluebottle: Why are you not wearing any trousers?
Eccles: Well, it’s lunchtime.
Bluebottle: Oh! What did you have for lunch?
Eccles: My trousers.
I read it as though it were short for ecclesiastical or Ecclesiastes: /ikliz/. It certainly seemed odd to me: who was this ecclesiastical character and why were they abbreviating his name?
I did subsequently learn that it actually rhymes with heckles and freckles and is not an abbreviation. I also got a good taste of the character when, during rehearsal for Stoppard’s After Magritte, we listened to a Goon Show episode or two; Eccles happened to be similar in various ways to the character I was playing (a rather stupid cop called Holmes – not the only big stupid character I ever played; I seemed to have a knack for them, somehow). I remember this bit (which I have copied from www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_show.asp?
Help, Eccles, help!
(off) You two down there! Stop that naughty noise! I’m trying to get some sleep, I’m a brain-worker!
I’m sorry Eccles. Not so loud, Min, quietly.
MINNIE and HENRY:
(quietly) Help, Eccles, help.
But it’s not just the feckless Eccles and his reckless pickles that tickle my ears and my tongue. There are also Eccles cakes, which are yummy round flaky pastries filled with currants (so much tastier than trousers). It’s true that I can’t see, let alone eat, an Eccles cake without thinking of Eccles from the Goon Show and his rather stupid, daft voice (hear an example at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSSGiA4f5cs). But it doesn’t override the enjoyment (and anyway, they’re both flaky). In fact, I also can’t see the name Eccles now without thinking of Eccles cakes.
Well and good, Eccles has those echoes, but where does the name come from anyway? The cakes are named after their place of origin, a town near Manchester. That may not be the famous Eccles (as the character Eccles often says, “I’m the famous Eccles!”), but it’s evidently the original Eccles (there are ickle Eccles all over the place – little cc‘s, as it were). And where does it get its name?
It’s not entirely sure, but the indications are that it comes from Celtic egles “church”, which comes from Latin ecclesia (which in turn comes from Greek). Which is of course the source of ecclesiastical and Ecclesiastes – the latter being a book of the Bible, often abbreviated Eccles, known for its quotable stoic world-weariness:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (ix:11)
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. (xi:1)
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (xii:12)
Well, doesn’t that take the cake. Or, if it doesn’t, Eccles will:
Interviewer: Get out, you idiot!
Eccles: Wait a minute! Wait a minute! But you ain’t even heard me speak yet!
Interviewer: We’ll write to you.
Eccles: Well, that’s no good, I can’t read.