Reading difficult handwriting is an interesting example of how the mind works. We have a wonderful ability to fill in gaps and decipher unreadable pieces, as long as there is some context. It has some similarity with certain word games, combining Scrabble and Fill-in-the-blank. One rapidly becomes aware of whether or not one has mastered a hand, however, when confronted with a proper name. Context and familiarity can help: if the place name or last name is an expected one, chances are better that it will be deciphered. On the other hand, if it is a place name or last name (those are especially bad) which is entirely unfamiliar, one’s actual ability is quickly revealed. Sometimes, a last name is doomed to obscurity. I have a passage here: ‘we moved Mrs. P????’s piano’ from a letter I am working on. Well, Mrs. P. doesn’t show up again in the letter, and the involved letters ‘i,e,l,b,r’ are blurred. An educated guess can be made: ‘Pollbiers’ but, frankly that doesn’t ‘feel’ right. So, a question mark is left, and one moves on. Maybe, at some point it will be made clear, either by increased familiarity or by a better example. Still it is likely that she will remain as ‘Mrs. P.’ Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that the difficulty in deciphering odd last names is part of the explanation behind the old style of saying, ‘Mrs. B.’ or ‘Mr. M.’ along, of course, with space and labour saving.