Monday, May 20, 2019

Name Fudging

I can’t help it but I am an entrenched traditionalist—or, if you prefer, conventional soul—about names. I have no serious quarrel with those who invent names for themselves, but if you want a name hallowed by history, I say, “Stick to the tradition and don’t meddle or muddle with spelling or pronunciation.”

Let’s start with the name of the Countess of Essex, married to Prince Harry. She should be Megan, not Meghan, as she has it. Before an A, O, or U, the G is automatically hard, as in garden, government, and gutter, and as such does not require hardening by an extra H. Before an E or I, things can go either way: getting or gender, gibbon or gist. With Megan, an H after the G, is no option.

“Meghan” is manifestly de trop and  illiterate. So much for the former Meghan Markle. You might try to excuse this fault by blaming the parents who perpetrated it. But an intelligent bearer, in this age of openness, could easily have corrected it, either legally or simply by usage.

Yet what can you expect from a couple that after prolonged pondering names their son Archie ? That is not even a full-fledged name, merely a diminutive for someone called Archibald. It derives from the Teutonic Ercanbald, meaning nobly bold.

Of course, you might argue that President Clinton, for example, would go by Bill, even if he was christened William Jeffferson Clinton. When it comes to preference, however, he might as easily have called himself Habakuk or Marmaduke if he chose to; the aura of William would cling to him anyway. Other politicos too have used nicknames for their first names, presumably making them more friendly and eligible.

Now take the case of that obnoxious female chef on TV, Rachael Ray. Rachael for Rachel is absurd. That second A is clearly derived by faulty analogy from Michael, but serves no purpose (e.g, different pronunciation) except to look pretentious. The fact is that both Michael and Rachel come from the Hebrew, the one meaning “who is like to God,” the other “a ewe,” “emblematic of gentleness,” as the great linguist, Eric Partridge, on whose book, “Name This Child,” all my wisdom is based.

Although English names come from all over, some even from old English, Scottish or Welsh sources, the ones that I would most consider affected are a number of women’s names ending in “ah,” where the problem is that they are, for the most part too historic. Too snobbishly faithful to their origins. The terminal H is particularly useless, given that, in English, it could easily be dropped.

Take Deborah, a bee in Hebrew, which to my eye would look better as Debora. Or take now Sara and Sarah, equally popular, though the first is all that’s really required. It derives from the Hebrew “Sarai, meaning quarrelsome, which in time became Sarah, meaning “princess,” influenced no doubt by “Sar,” a prince. Nora, or Norah, is largely from the Irish. Writes Partridge: “earlier Onora, a Hibernicism  for ‘Honora’ or ‘Honoria.’” That final H seems to me the very acme of meddlesomeness, as in Norah O’Donnell, the new anchor for “CBS Evening News. The classic Nora, perhaps under the influence of Ibsen, strikes me as much the finer.” Hannah, according to Partridge is “a doublet of Anne,” whatever that exactly means, and seems to me, who have never encountered it, truly fudging the obvious and quite sufficient Hanna. Ann and Anne seem to me equally unsullied .
However,  I rather like Anna, “the original form of Anne,” according to my master Partridge; not because of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, which I shamefully admit to never having read, but because of any personal associations--Nordic, Teutonic or Slavic--that I may have gleaned from readings or acquaintances. Thus the heroine of Lanford Wilson’s play “Burn This” is called Anna. Eugene O’Neill even gives us an Anna Christie.

 As a tennis fan, let me conclude with two instances from the tennis world. Nick Kyrgios, the Australian ace of clearly Greek origin, has himself and the world pronouncing the name as Kyrios, the middle G unsounded. Why? It’s no tongue twister in its written form, so what has that poor G done to be avoided? Perhaps the danger of being an undesired mispronunciation in English as Kyrdgios.

More curious yet is the case of the African American Tiafoe (his parents immigrated from Africa), who calls himself Frances Tiafoe. He has been duly warned that Frances is a woman’s name, but that he had its masculine version, Francis, at his ready disposal. No, he insisted, Frances it must be. This though he doesn’t sport the least feminine trait, looking rather like a very butch male person. Francis, extremelyMy popular among Elizabethans, “derives from Old German, Franco, a free lord.” But isn’t there something a trifle too free about such gender-bending?

Readers, if you can shed light on either of these instances, kindly do so. My own full name John Ivan Simon, had that redundant middle name (Ivan is just another form of John) added by my father to make me sound, in his view, more American, what with the popularity hereabouts of middle names. To me, it seems more Russianizing than Americanizing, and I have been avoiding it whenever possible.


  1. If you pronounce Ivan like "eye-vin," I like it a lot. It rhymes with Simon.

    John Eyevin Simon. Pops knew what he was doin'

  2. I've thought of some new names people should think about using.

    Rug-"goes well with" Wilson (Rug Wilson)
    Pupp- (Pupp Peterson)
    Faggy- (Faggy Summers)
    Branch- (Branch Wayne)
    Fartt- (Fartt Birdsong)
    Bubber- (Bubber McCartney)
    Zazz- (Zazz Newburgh)
    Blink- (Blink Button)
    Korvyn- (Korvyn Jefferson)
    Hunk- (Hunk Flowers)
    Boote- (Boote Flowers) Hunk's brother
    Lysal- (Lysal Jaggoff)
    Wimp Sanderson- just kidding
    Forge- (Forge Irons)
    Noon- (Noon Kildare)
    Hoppie- (Hoppie Burns)
    Less- (Less Izmore)
    Vage- (Vage Upstein)
    Robber- (Robber Williams)
    Fuke-(Fuk Yew) Sorry
    Dunce- (Dunce Daniels)
    Coke- (Coke Headstrum)
    Oly- (Oly Gaye)

  3. John, how is it that the smartest, most erudite and well-read man I know, has never read "Anna Karenina?" Hope you are well. My treat for lunch whenever you are free.

  4. Respect Youssef

    In older times we made no bones,
    Force-naming immigrants Smith or Jones.
    Long having lost the culture wars,
    Entree goes to Chiwetels, Ejiofors.

    More foreign the more open doors,
    Strange reigns as in the other pours.
    Multi-colored dawn for wars of thrones,
    Under the weight Joe Average groans.

  5. I miss the old Hollywood habit of renaming everyone. Not only do I mispronounce names but the owners are no more capable.

  6. Drinking a cup of jo, and thinking about Ezra Pound. I saw something on Twitter about T.S. Eliot so I Googled him. I realized I had already done this. I then saw a blue link to Ezra Pound. I followed some of the links. Apparently, Pound was pretty damned smart. He knew poetry. He knew about stuff. Pound helped edit Eliot's "The Wasteland." Pound traveled a lot. U.S., England, France, Spain, Italy, among others. He had several girlfriends and wives. Turns out Pound was a Fascist. Full on Fascist. In 1945, Pound attempted to avoid arrest by walking and/or hitchhiking 450 miles through Italy. He was caught. He was 60 years old. He was imprisoned for being a traitor. He spent a month in a 6x6 outdoor cage and then was transferred to a mental hospital. He went nuts and wrote "The Cantos."

    Anyway, I said all of this because I found a mugshot photo of Pound when he was arrested in Italy. I'll put the link below. This could be a photo of me right now. Lately, I've shaved my goatee, but now I'm growing it back for Ezra. I have the same look in my eyes as he does in this photo. Even my wife says the resemblance is fairly incredible. If you ever wondered what Pop Leibel looks like, here you go. I am Ezra Pound's doppelganger.

    1. I want to keep this site hoppin'. Man, Pop Leibel sure looks like Ezra Pound. They both have that crazy stare.

      Watched a few movies this week. Don't waste your time with "The Mackintosh Man." Perfectly dreadful film. Bland and confusing. Newman sleepwalks through the entire thing. I've come to realize Paul Newman isn't that good of an actor. He was okay in Butch Cassidy, though.

      "Autumn Sonata" is good. Not classic Bergman, but pretty good. Ingrid Bergman is weird in a Swedish speaking film. Bergman (the director) never does it the easy way. The characters get put through a meat grinder. Nice ending to the film. I won't spoil it.

      "The Trip To Bountiful" is very good. Geraldine Page's wacky old woman is a sight. The film has (kind of) a fruity ending I didn't like, though.

      "Mr. Arkadin" is Welles (again) trying to film a nightmare. He gets pretty close. I gave up a few times watching the film. I just threw my hands up because things were so convoluted. I don't mind convoluted as long as things are interesting. But, a pretty good film.

      This week's film rankings:

      1) Autumn Sonata (thumbs up)
      2) The Trip To Bountiful (thumbs up)
      3) Mr. Arkadin (a reluctant thumbs up)
      4) The Mackintosh Man (two thumbs down)

    2. Can we assume, then, that this is the proximate doppelganger of the young Pop Leibel?...

      That would certainly turn heads at the grocery store (as you once reminisced) :-)

    3. Unknown, great question. I did that research myself, as well. I'll have to report that the young Pound and the young Pop Leibel did not look alike. Budding Pop was a sandy haired youngster with blue eyes and wide cheek bones. It's only that one mugshot where a resemblance comes to the fore.

      I'll admit to you right here and now, though, that I exaggerated the affinity a small amount because it made the story sound better. My apologies.

      Nevertheless, even my wife claims that "the look in the eyes" is strikingly similar to something she's seen in my countenance. I think it's mainly the eyes.

  7. I looked at the Criterion DVD of 'Five Easy Pieces', found it riveting. Then I looked at Mr. Simon's review from 'Reverse Angle': he wrote that the reasons for Nicholson's rebellion weren't made clear enough.... Also, in a review of the movie 'A Touch of Class' he called Mazursky's 'Blume in Love' "odious"! But it's a good film that has aged well, methinks.

    1. "Pieces" was the best film from '70. Dysfunctional family. It was quite clear why Bobby turned out the way he did.

      The ending is top 10 of all time.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Apparently the original ending was for Nicholson's character to lose control of the car and drive into a body of water. Karen Black's character would have emerged from the water and said, "Bobby, you son of a bitch"....

  9. Great quote from Susan Anspach's character, spoken to Nicholson's character: "You're a strange person, Robert. I mean, what will you come to? If a person has no love for himself, no respect for himself, no love of his friends, family, work, something -- how can he ask for love in return? I mean, why should he ask for it?"

    Pop, have you seen 'Drive, He Said' or 'A Safe Place'? Two 1971 Nicholson films that recently got the Criterion Collection treatment....

    1. An underrated Jack Nicholson performance of that early seventies period is the film “The Last Detail.” Along with Nicholson, Randy Quaid was superb in this poignant Hal Ashby film that captures the late sixties’ culture hangover better than any film I can think of.

  10. When will I learn to comment on these entries when they are posted, rather than winding up addressing the point beneath entries that have wandered from it?

    I assume your father pronounced it EE-fahn or ee-FAHN. He was responding to an earlier fashion among ninteenth century American writers (and adhered to slightly longer by prominent Americans in other fields) of using a triple name, to wit: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Henry Dana, Ralph Waldo Emmerson-- probably because these looked more distinguished in a land without titles. This practice was fading by the rise of the 'Missionary' generation (the one preceding the Lost Generation): Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Edith Wharton. A couple of Edgars held out for three: Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Lee Masters. And architect Frank Lloyd Wright did the best he could with the three monosyllables his parents doled out.

    Had you chosen to use Ivan, I'm certain your victims would have given you Vasilyevich's sobriquet.


  11. Three named people still thrive. My favorite is Joyce Carol Oates.

    1. Oates was a close friend of John Updike, and she gets several mentions in Adam Begley's excellent Updike bio:

    2. Oates is a great follow on Twitter.

      She's slowed down a little, lately. Her husband died this summer. (I think it was her husband.)

  12. I have seen the name John spelled Jon . Only you could write an essay like this , JOHN . Keep'em coming !