Words & Stuff

n: What's in a Name?

(6 April 1997)

"I'm now firmly in the grip of Flu Abelard. (This year I've decided to name them, like hurricanes; the next one will be Flu Boadicea.)"
Elliott Moreton

I've long been fascinated by names -- names of things, names of places, names of people. I like words for and pertaining to names -- appellation, monicker, nomenclature, ycleption. (Games magazine once ran an article, or maybe a contest, under the heading "On the Appellation Trail.") Some day I hope to put together a giant database of people's names, with cross references between equivalent names in different languages. In the meantime, here are some assorted items involving names.

My uncle Dobe Doinat maintains an extensive list of what he calls "punny names" -- mostly puns on common terms or phrases, written in the form of people's names. In high school, we used to pick "sir-names" for ourselves: punny-name titles starting with "Sir" or "Miss," depending on the gender of the name's owner: Sir Prize, Miss Demeanor, Sir Eptitious, Miss Take, Sir Tinly, Miss Place, Sir Loin, Miss Direction, Sir Cuitous, Miss Conception, Sir Plus, Miss Information, Sir Cull, Miss Understanding. Someone declared herself to be "vague Miss Givings." Mykle Hansen, playing with the form, took on the title "Sir I think you dropped this." I went by Sir Real, but in retrospect I wish I'd chosen "Sir le Table" (as in "La plume de ma tante").

Half a dozen common first names (or nicknames for first names) are the names of letters: Bee, Dee, Jay, Kay, Em. (Seems odd to me that there aren't any in the second half of the alphabet; I've heard "Vee" as a nickname for names starting with V, but that's more like calling someone by an initial.) At one point in high school my friend Bee stumbled while walking; another friend nearby, concerned, exclaimed, "Oh, gee, Bee, are you okay?" -- a string of seven letters, particularly impressive given its impromptu nature. (For lots of phrases pronounced like strings of letters, by the way, see William Steig's marvelous book CDB.)

I think it's fairly obvious (to an American, anyway), especially given the current context, what these people have in common:

Can you think of any other people (or characters) that fit the criterion?

Jim Moskowitz (besides providing a couple of the above names) suggests going the other direction: list eleven states named after people.

For a different game, complete this sequence:

The best I've been able to do is Gary Hart (not the spelling I'd prefer) and (in the punny names category, not the name of anyone in particular) Billy Club. Suggestions appreciated, preferably spelled appropriately and belonging to specific well-known people or characters.

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>