Humorous Onomastic Epiphanies by Don and Alleen Nilsen
Calling Someone Out of Their Name:Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Father • Henry Louis Gates Jr. became famous as the author of The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988). He was included in Time Magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans.” • In his book, Gates relates a childhood experience:
His father always spoke to Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Wilson always spoke back: • “‘Hello, Mr. Wilson,’ I heard my father say. • ‘Hello, George.’ • I stopped licking my ice cream cone, and asked my Dad in a loud voice why Mr. Wilson had called him ‘George.’ • ‘Doesn’t he know your name, Daddy? Why don’t you tell him your name? Your name isn’t George.’”
‘Tell him your name, Daddy.’ • ‘He knows my name, boy,’ my father said after a long pause. ‘He calls all colored people George.’ • There would be a painful moment of silence, and you would wait for it to give way for a discussion of a black superstar such as Sugar Ray or Jackie Robinson. • ‘Nobody hits better in a clutch than Jackie Robinson.’ • ‘That’s right. Nobody.’ • I never again looked Mr. Wilson in the eye.”
Tom Rossa.k.a. Tikvah Rosenberg • In his book, Tikvah Rosenberg tells the following story: • In 1938, the Rosenbergs left Nazi Germany when Tom was six. • In an attempt to downplay their Jewish heritage, the Rosenbergs changed their surname to Ross when they arrived in the United States. • In order to regain his cultural heritage, Tom legally changed his surname back to Rosenberg.
But telling his children was difficult: “The initiatives attacking social services for immigrants, bilingual education, Affirmative Action—made me want to shout ‘I’m an immigrant!’ My children were silent for a moment before they smiled, leaned over, and hugged me.” • When his rabbi heard of his decision, he asked Tom if he had thought about taking a Hebrew first name?
About his decision, he tells his children, “Every time I step into a temple, I’m reminded that Judaism has survived for 4,000 years.” • “It has survived because it is a positive religion. My parents, your grandparents, changed their name out of fear. I’m changing it back out of pride.” • “I chose the name Tikvah because it means hope.”
CHARACTERS FROM LITERATURE, ETC. • David Copperfield is a character in a Charles Dickens novel. • The other David Copperfield is a magician. • Englebert Humperdinck is the German Composer of the opera “Hansel and Gretel.” • The other Englebert Humperdinck is a rock musician. • Tom Jones is a character in a Henry Fielding novel. • The other Tom Jones is a rock musician.
HISPANIC NAMES • In Spain and Latin America, if a girl were named Ana Maria López Garcia, she has two surnames. The first one is her father’s (López), and the second one is her mother’s (Garcia).
If Ana Maria López Garcia married Gregorio Díaz Rodriguez, then she would write her name as Ana Maria López de Díaz. • In Mexico, Ana Maria López de Díaz would go by her maiden name daily (Maria López Garcia), but on formal documentation she would identify herself with her married name (Ana Maria López de Díaz).
If she were to have a child, Alicia, Alicia’s full name would be Alicia López Díaz, keeping both her father’s and her mother’s surnames.
SUSANNE K. LANGER’S OBSERVATION • “Watch a young child that is just learning to speak play with a toy; he says the name of the object, e.g.: `Horsey! horsey! horsey!’ over and over again, and looks at the object, moves it, always saying the name to himself or to the world at large. • It’s quite a time before he talks to anyone in particular; he talks first of all to himself.”
“This is his way of forming and fixing the conception of the object in his mind, and around this conception all his knowledge of it grows. Names are the essence of language…” • “…for the name is what abstracts the conception of the horse from the horse itself, and lets the mere idea recur at the speaking of the name. This permits the conception gathered from one horse experience to be exemplified again by another instance of a horse, so that the notion embodied in the name is a general notion.”
STAGE NAMES TOWARD ETHNICITY • Caryn Johnson Whoopi Goldberg • Yakov Pokhis Yakov Smirnoff (to be associated with Russian vodka)
STAGE NAMES AWAY FROM ETHNICITY • Aaron Chwatt Red Buttons • Jacob Cohen Rodney Dangerfield • David Kaminsky Danny Kaye • Melvin Kaminsky Mel Brooks • Allan Konigsberg Woody Allen • Joseph Levitch Jerry Lewis • Paul Rubenfeld Pee-Wee Herman • Gerald Silberman Gene Wilder
STAGES TOWARD FORMALITY • Frances Gumm Judy Garland • Gary Keillor Garrison Keillor • Susan Weaver Sigourney Weaver
STAGE NAMES AWAY FROM FORMALITY • Phyllis Driver Phyllis Diller • Herbert Gleason Jackie Gleason • Leonard Hackett Buddy Hackett • Joseph Keaton Buster Keaton • Shelton Lee Spike Lee • Milton Superman Soupy Sales • Clerow Wilson Flip Wilson
MADONNA • A member of the American Name Society interviewed Madonna, who expressed surprise that anyone still thought of the mother of Jesus when hearing the name of “Madonna.”
THE MARX BROTHERS • Art Fisher was the first one to give stage names to the Marx Brothers. Groucho explains: • “I was the moody one, so he called me ‘Groucho.’ The harp player Adolph—who, after Hitler’s rise to power changed his name to Arthur—would be known as ‘Harpo.’ The fellow who wore the gumshoes (Milton, who had a habit of sneaking around backstage) would be known as ‘Gummo.’ And the one constantly chasing the pretty chicks would be called ‘Chicko.’ When a typesetter accidentally left the k out of Chicko’s name, he became ‘Chico.’”
MARX AND LENIN • In celebration of its independence from the Soviet Union, the country of Abkhazia issued a stamp honoring Marx and Lenin. • If someone looks closely at the stamp, they can see pictures of Groucho Marx and John Lennon of the Beatles.
VLADIMIR NABOKOV • “LOLITA, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” • “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”
DOLLY PARTON • Dolly is the name of the first cloned sheep. • This is because Dolly was cloned from a mammary gland. • She was named, therefore, “in honor of” the buxom Dolly Parton.
PRODUCT & STORE NAMES • Hush Puppy shoes are for tired dogs. Hush Puppies (cornmeal fried with fish) were given their name because they were thrown to dogs to keep them from whining. • V-8 Vegetable Juice was named after the Ford V-8 engine. The Ford engine was V-shaped and had 8 cylinders; V-8 juice has 8 vegetable juices. • Circle K is like OK. • 7-Eleven comes from the game of “Craps,” a game of dice. Originally. These stores were open from 7 AM until 11 PM.
BABY RUTH • The original Baby Ruth was the daughter of President Grover Cleveland and his wife. • In 1914, when he was only 19 and had a childlike personality, George Herman Ruth’s baseball fans started calling him “Babe,” which later became Babe Ruth in association with President Cleveland’s baby. • Later came the “Baby Ruth” candy bar.
TOPONYMICS • The Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River gave us the name of Rock Hudson. • Janet Rasmussen’s father changed their family name to Reno, after a city in Nevada. • Other such names are River Phoenix, John Denver, Tennessee Williams, Minnesota Fats, Chevy Chase, Indiana Jones, and all of the people named Dakota, Tex, Cody, Montana, etc.
TYPES OF NAMES AND -NYMS • ACRONYMS: radar, unesco • ANTONYMS: boy-girl, black-white • APTONYMS: Hunt and Chase (hunters), Payne (dentist) • CACONYMS: Englebert Humperdinck, Hubert Humphrey • CRYPTONYMS: 007, 99
EPONYMS: ferris wheel, salk vaccine • EUPHONYMS: Edna St. Vincent Millay • EXONYMS: Chinese Checkers, Gypsies, Mormons, Navajos, Papago, Quakers, Wales • GENERIC EPONYMS: Bud, Guy, Jack (le jacquerie), Jane, John • HETERONYMS: bass, bow, close, dove, house, lead, read, row, sow, tear, wind, wound
Eponyms: Ferris Wheel & Salk VaccineGeorge Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., & Jonas Salk