It’s surely right that the new emergency field hospital opened in London in the Excel Centre has been called “Nightingale”. Florence Nightingale is just about the most recognisable name in British medical history.

“Nightingale” evokes a beautiful songbird, but Florence very nearly didn’t bear that surname at all. Her father’s family name had been “Shore”, but he changed it when he became heir to a relation who wished the “Nightingale” link to continue. Her then unusual Christian name was given her because she was born in Florence – in May 1820 – while her parents were on the Grand Tour of Europe.

Florence benefitted from a well-to-do background: but there were other aspects of her life that were formative (according to her most recent biographer, Mark Bostridge). Her parents believed in education for women. Her religious beliefs were strong and drove her on – she considered becoming an Anglican nun, or Lutheran deaconess. Nursing attracted her because she longed to have something meaningful to do – though she had been inclined to nurse “sick” dolls as a child, and once bound up a puppy’s injured paw.

Praise the Lord

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