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what's in a name?
handles, monikers, appellations, labels, and the occasional misnomer.
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
9.10.03
writing


"It is most important to be a good namer, since it falls to all of us at some time or other to name anything from a canary to a castle, and since names generally have to last a long time." - Alastair Reid -- Ounce, Dice, Trice

My brother recently pointed out to me a housing development in the middle of New Jersey, situated about halfway between Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean. In and of itself, that's not unique; much of New Jersey due east of Philadelphia is housing developments. What sets this one apart, though, is its name. While many developers choose to name their pre-fab towns with phrases evoking the natural settings that their bulldozers have so recently destroyed ("Rolling Meadows," "Shady Glen," "Hidden Lakes"), the creators of this particular offering to the gods of overpopulation have unearthed what I believe to be the best incidence of this trend ever: Oak Pines.

I'm not kidding. I would love to meet the team of monkeys who came up with that gem. Try to best it; I'll bet you can't.

Regardless, it got me thinking about how much stock we put in names. Consider it: names of places, names of people, nicknames of people, names of pets, of cars, of brands, of stores, of movies, of genitalia. No, really. A friend of mine has actually named his testicles Itchy and Scratchy. I'm so disappointed that I didn't come up with that first (you know, when I had two).

My point is that whether names are smart or stupid, good or bad, fitting or inappropriate, they're always important. Sometimes names can even mean more to us than content or personality or even other aspects of reality. Another real estate example: the area of Queens I live in is called Astoria. It's not technically Astoria: my post office is officially Long Island City. Now L.I.C. is not a great area of Queens. It's a lot of factories and warehouses and housing projects. Guess what? Astoria has higher property values. Because of a name.

When we're little, we learn the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover." Of course it usually means that we should make an effort to see beyond a person's outside appearance; however, if we were to take the saying literally, don't we pretty much always do that? The title of a book, movie, play, etc. can mean nearly as much to its success as the content. Which is why I'm astounded sometimes at the choices people make -- among some movie titles that have discouraged me from seeing the movie: Spy Kids, Sophie's Choice, The Human Stain, Joe vs. the Volcano, and Victor/Victoria. The list goes on. (As an aside: I've heard that Road to Perdition is a pretty good film, and I'll probably watch it some day, but I'll tell you -- my interest in the movie dimmed severely when I had to use a dictionary to understand what the title meant. I'm told that preachers use the word "perdition" a lot during sermons; I'll take peoples' word for that.)

Of course bad decision-making regarding names isn't just restricted to the entertainment industry. Among the transgressors that come to mind is a pizza parlor on Long Beach Island, NJ, called "Squaly D's." Yeah. A) if your name is Pasquale, don't call yourself Squaly. B) Never name a restaurant anything that's only one letter away from a word like "squalid." I mean the food might be excellent, but I don't plan on finding out, and it's all because of the name.

I know other people have riffed on this -- stand-up comedians, for example -- but there are certain famous people who would never have made it with other names. No U.N. Secretary-General will ever be named Otis Prissypants. No supermodel will ever be named Wingnut Bloomblume. No Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan will ever be named Adam Kraemer.

And then there are countless examples of people who change their names, often in order to become more successful in their chosen profession. Kirk Douglas might not have been a leading man with the name Issur Danielovitch Demsky. Nor might Winona Ryder have been as successful early in her career as Winona Horowitz. I'm sure there are also non-Jewish, non-actor examples as well, but you get my point.

Names are more than just what something's called; they often evoke our first reaction to the object (person, movie, etc.) before we've even encountered it. The title of this column comes from Shakespeare: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." Given, the Bard was referring to his antagonists' whole Richard Dawson issue (survey says...?), so Juliet isn't incorrect, but at the same time I don't know how many women would like to get a beautiful bouquet of "mulepiss flowers." I'm just sayin'.

We consider names to be so important that full cultures and religions have both rules and superstitions regarding the naming of a person. From the Jews' tradition of naming a baby after its deceased forbearers, to the opposite tradition many gentile families have of naming the first-born son after his father, to the Native American nature traditions, what a person is called is often the first decision made for him and possibly one of the first outside influences to affect his personality. Think about this before you decide to name your son something like "Art" (Fart), "Cass" (Ass), or "Dick" (...).

Nowhere is this emphasis on names more pronounced than on the internet -- in chat rooms, Internet Messenger usernames, and e-mail addresses. Get yourself web access and suddenly, you're allowed to call yourself whatever you want. Sure, it's always been possible to go and get your name changed, but this is even easier. You don't have to be one of a hundred thousand Davids; for the first time, your personality can show through, Mr. CoolWeed420. No longer are you a 35-year-old virgin, Ellen; all of a sudden you're KissesForCash@slutty.com. The internet encourages individuality; no two people can have the same e-mail address, the same AOL messenger handle, or the same J-date login (mine, by the way, is AnotherAdam). Among people I know on the web are Candypants, DrunkasaurusRex, MaeWestIsDead, SmittenKitten, ZamboniGuy, DLightful, and CuteRevolutionary. Trust me; those names say more about their personalities than any given name possibly could. And for the right amount of money, I'll sell you their phone numbers. And used underwear.

There are so many more scenarios where names are tantamount to image -- bands, music (albums and songs), and corporations, to name a few -- and I think it's important to notice that. I know a number of people who don't like their given names; they often go by nicknames or by their middle names. And trends in names change, too. For example, I imagine you'd be hard pressed to find someone named Adolf these days. But your name is who you are, what you do, where you go. And ultimately, it will be what you leave behind when you die.

So change your name if you want, avoid that bar because you don't like its name (Club Manhole?), take your husband's last name or don't, just don't forget that it's a much larger part of the image than you might imagine. Oh, and if you're going to drag my name through the mud, make sure it's not my Chrisitan name. I'm saving that one in case it turns out that Jesus really is the Messiah.

Adam Kraemer's short story EAVESDROPPER will be featured in LET THE EVOLUTION BEGIN, the first book from Intrepid Publishing.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer

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COMMENTS

adam kraemer
9.10.03 @ 1:28p

Over 100 reads and no discussion? Doesn't anyone have any interesting stories about names of people, pets, places? I'll start: there was a Chinese restaurant in Northeast Philly that used to be named the Fuk Wei Inn. Apparently, someone finally told them that was a bad name. They changed it to the Fu Kwai Inn.

mike julianelle
9.10.03 @ 1:32p

Best name ever: Chest Rockwell.

jael mchenry
9.10.03 @ 1:47p

Let us not forget the Mei Dick barbershop.

heather millen
9.10.03 @ 1:54p

I have a friend Star Longo (guy) and a former friend, Autumn Bush (girl). I think they sound like they should do a porn together.

adam kraemer
9.10.03 @ 1:55p

My brother and friends of his were trying once to come up with names that fit their professions perfectly. The best one they got was "Lance Vector: Ski Instructor."

heather millen
9.10.03 @ 2:00p

You ever meet someone and when you hear their name you think to yourself "That name just doesn't suit that person."

Personally, I think I look like a Heather.

adam kraemer
9.10.03 @ 2:04p

Well, in the opposite direction, my friend Greg has a theory that there are no ugly guys named "Brad."

mike julianelle
9.10.03 @ 2:09p

Julia Louis-Dreyfus' husband is no hottie. I think his name is Brad.

mike julianelle
9.10.03 @ 2:11p

Yeah, Brad Hall. Looks like a dork.

heather millen
9.10.03 @ 2:36p

I disagree with the "Brad" thing. I've met unattractive Brads. But I can't say that I've ever met a "Heath" that wasn't drop dead gorgeous.

juli mccarthy
9.10.03 @ 2:57p

Heather - I know an extremely frumpy Raquel and an unbelievably gorgeous Myron. Is that the kind of thing you mean?

Me, I'm just sick of trendy names. I know of one family who has Maris, Vail, Camden and Briar. I don't care what anyone says, those are stupid-ass names.

heather millen
9.10.03 @ 2:59p

Exactly, Juli. Or a even smart Bambi? Just shouldn't happen.

I also hate when a name you like becomes tainted. Growing up, I was always deadset on naming my daughter (should I have one) "Kelsey." Then I met the world's most obnoxious child and her name was Kelsey. Tainted, I tell ya!

[edited]

adam kraemer
9.10.03 @ 5:05p

I'm always bothered when someone's first and last name are the same - William Williams, Roger Rogers, Michael Michaels. I never understood parents who did that.

robert melos
9.11.03 @ 12:09a

As a writer and Realtor I was advised to pick a name that would be easy for the public to remember, or unusual enough to remember. Robert is very generic, and my given name, but I liked using my first and middle initial, and I took my grandfather's pre-Ellis Island last name of Melos, even though most people think I'm from Greece because of it. But in real estate I'm Robert or Bob or Bobby, and I avoid last names. You'll notice a lot of Realtors just use the first initial of their last name. Bobby M is eaiser to remember than Robert Millosh.

And for the record, my mechanic is name Adolph. I once had a music teacher named Mrs. Peckerman. She changed her name to Peck.

adam kraemer
9.11.03 @ 7:45a

I think there's a pretty good chance you just became Bobby M here at Intrepid Media, too.

I just thought of another naming faux pas: where I live in Queens, all of the streets that run North/South are numbered streets, running pretty much in order (28th Street, 29th Street...). The East/West streets, however, repeat numbers, but change designations (44th Avenue, 44th Road, 44th Boulevard, 44th Lane, 45th Avenue, 45th Road, etc.). It might be the most confusing street numbering system ever.

heather millen
9.11.03 @ 1:10p

Numbered streets I can deal with, but I hate lettered streets. I mean, "H Street"?! Really.

Also, my sixth grade boyfriend's name was Constantine Alex Alex. His brothers were Peter Alex Alex and Nicholas Alex Alex. And here's the crown jewel- his father was Alexander Alex Alex.

Bizarre family.

rachel levine
9.11.03 @ 2:05p

I knew two very unfortunately named people from Model Congress in high school...
Guy Handler (a brit, so it was pronounced Gee)
Richard Weed (we all called him Senator Dickweed of course)
You're totally on about names. Incidentally, I think Brooklyn or the Bronx used to be called Kings county. Now why did Queens stick and Kings go by the by?



brian anderson
9.11.03 @ 2:21p

It didn't; the Borough of Brooklyn entirely fills the County of Kings. Now ask someone else why NYC still has county governments, when each county in the city has exactly one borough, and all five of them are under the city government.

[edited]

jael mchenry
9.11.03 @ 2:41p

Here in DC we not only have the lettered street names that Heather hates (no "J" St., though) but also the place designation changing (39th St, 39th Place, 40th Street, 40th Place) Adam mentioned. Also, my personal favorite, the ascending alphabetical names: Albemarle, Brandywine, Chesapeake, Davenport, Ellicott, Fessenden... the list goes on.

In Janesville we only had numbers and trees. Plus Main and Barrick (the founder's name.) Other than that: numbers and trees, man, numbers and trees.

adam kraemer
9.11.03 @ 2:53p

I always liked that they did that in Boston's back bay (Arlington, Boyleston, Copley, D-something...).

In Philly, it's not too bad - the north/south streets are numbered, and the east/west are mainly trees.

heather millen
9.11.03 @ 3:02p

I grew up so far into PA Country that we didn't have road names. It would be RR 2 or RR 5. (Rural Route) They couldn't care about naming us out there.

LA is pretty cut and dry on the road layout. Unfortunately, though, they go on FOREVER. You can be on Sepulveda or Santa Monica Blvd. for approximately 100 miles, so just getting on your destination street doesn't mean jack until you hit your cross street.

[edited]

brian anderson
9.11.03 @ 3:12p

That's actually changed, Heather. With the advent of statewide 911 service, they've given all the roads names, even ones that never had a name before.

However, they haven't changed the names of towns like [insert your favorite humorous Pennsylvania town name here].

adam kraemer
9.11.03 @ 3:49p

Well, there are still roads with no names in some places. I was driving through rural New Jersey a few weeks ago (trying to cut out the Labor Day traffic from the shore), and we saw roads that were just route numbers. People who live at 2571 Route 539.

brian anderson
9.11.03 @ 4:09p

I believe that in northern Maine, it's the towns that just have numbers.

jeffrey walker
9.11.03 @ 4:43p

Let us not forget the Mei Dick barbershop.

Still located in Chinatown. We cut you long time.

adam kraemer
9.11.03 @ 6:28p

So it's a barbershop and mohel?

bill copeland
9.11.03 @ 11:23p

Dartmouth.

My fiancee had a neighbor growing up named Anita Lay. And that was her married name. No one to blame but her own damn self.

If my mother marries her boyfriend, she'll become Bunny Cherry.

dr. jay gross
9.12.03 @ 7:25a

William Golding knew that 'to name a person, object, circumstance' would make that more familiar, therefore, more understandable and simple. "Lord of the Flies" helped me give my first wife her nickname - Cherry....unfortunately I should have listened to myself.

[edited]

tracey kelley
9.12.03 @ 12:03p

Bill, those are priceless.

I like the versitility of Tracey, myself. Why, when I introduce myself (and,as most of you know, I'm rather well-spoken), people say, "Teresa! Glad to meet you!" or "Terry, is it? How are you?"

adam kraemer
9.12.03 @ 12:09p

I was talking to a "Libby" last night at a bar (an aside:
Her: Who are you?
Me: Adam. You?
Her: Libby.
Me: Really?)
and we came to the conclusion that Elizabeth is probably the name which lends itself to more nicknames than any other - Liz, Lizzy, Eliza, Liza, Beth, Lizbeth, Lizabeth, Betty, Libby, Elie...

john chase
9.12.03 @ 1:27p

OK, I'm late to the party, but let me add two things. One, I had every intention of naming my third daugther Alison Wonderland, but my wife, now ex-wife, wouldn't go for it. Second, Russ will remember our cruising in the 80's and how we would joke about all the new subdivisions by calling them "Oak tree dale ville.. brook... stone..... stream..... land.... thingy"

russ carr
9.12.03 @ 1:43p

Yes, and I remember a host of other names for your umpteen other children as well.

heather millen
9.12.03 @ 2:35p

One of my ex-boyfriends was seriously intent on naming his son (mine?) Dynamite.

Stress on EX boyfriend.

[edited]

brian anderson
9.12.03 @ 3:11p

heather millen: One of my ex-boyfriends was seriously intent on naming his son (mine?) Dynamite.

Stress on EX boyfriend.


Odd way to pronounce "Dynamite." Without hearing it, I would have naturally pronounced it Dy-no-MITE!

adam kraemer
9.16.03 @ 12:37p

I'm pretty sure the "EX" was in "ex-boyfriend".

michelle von euw
9.16.03 @ 6:02p

For a 3 year period, people got my name mixed up with "Melissa" on a constant basis. And then it stopped.

Everyone should have joke names for their hypothetical children. Says the future mother of Boomshay Boomshay Von Euw Rodano.

juli mccarthy
9.16.03 @ 7:08p

I know a Shannon Bannon. I tell people all the time that her middle name is Bananafannafo. I also know a Krista Chandra Lear, ands I think her parents should have been shot before they were allowed to do that. At least in Shannon's case, she married the name. Poor Krista never had a chance.


daniel castro
9.17.03 @ 1:02a

I've also come late to this party, but here is my personal story...

Do you know what my initials are? No? Well, here they are:

D.I.C. (Daniel Ivan Castro)

Now I make fun of it, I have no other option. But before, it was hell. I hated it when someone would call me that. I'm just the dick nowadays.

jael mchenry
9.17.03 @ 4:44p

Everyone should have joke names for their hypothetical children. Says the future mother of Boomshay Boomshay Von Euw Rodano.

Jonathan's planning on Jonas Mikus Webcam.

liv cabs
9.17.03 @ 6:48p

Knew a girl named Cinnamon Ball. It was a married name too. Had a dentist names Dr. Payne. He was fun.

Adam, you've gotten me hooked to yet another e-journal....

-belladonna


[edited]

[edited]

adam kraemer
9.18.03 @ 9:02a

Excellent. I'm very happy.

On topic, I met a girl last night named Crystal. I, again, asked her if it was real. I don't understand these parents.

I also just heard about a woman whose married name is something like Gail Gail.

[edited]

robert melos
9.19.03 @ 12:48a

For me it's always fun to meet people who share famous names. In grade school I knew a guy named Dick Nixon (This was in 1975. He hated his name). I also went to college with Abby Hoffman. She really hated her name. If I were to be a father I would probably go the route my grandparents went with my mother, and go for the unusual. Her name is Lenita. I haven't met too many of them. She hates it because she gets Anita a lot. Me, I like Robert for a name for a boy. Simple, easy to remember, very noble, and can be Rob, Robbie, Robin, Bert, Bob, Bobby. The best part is you can be all of them, giving yourself different personalities to fit them.

[edited]

juli mccarthy
9.19.03 @ 12:56a

Oh, my aunt is Barbara Walters. And she introduces herself as "I'm Barbara Walters, but not that one."

adam kraemer
9.24.03 @ 11:40a

From Office Space:

Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Na-ee-ana-jad. Nayanajaad.
Michael Bolton: Yeah, well at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.
Samir: You know there's nothing wrong with that name.
Michael Bolton: There was nothing wrong with it...until that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
Samir: Hmm...well why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

dathan wood
9.24.03 @ 12:53p

I have a simple but somewhat unusual first name, Dathan. 99 times out of 100 when I meet someone I get, Nathan? David? Jason? Like I said it wrong. Yeah, it's my name and I mispronounced it, I really meant to say Jason, thanks. Ass. About ten years ago I started calling everyone Tim. Them: "Hi, I'm Susie." Me: "Nice to meet you, Tim." Sure it's petty but I still get a huge kick out of it.

adam kraemer
10.17.03 @ 3:01p

First, that's pretty funny. I imagine that your name occasionally engenders a Edward G. Robinson impersonation, too. "Where's your god now, Moses? Nya."

Second, sometimes it's less about the product and more about the name.



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