What's in a name? Just ask King Fisher, Robin Banks and Minnie Vann

What's in a name? Just ask King Fisher, Robin Banks and Minnie Vann

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I first became interested in memorable names - names that stand out, that draw immediate attention - while listening one day to the overture to The Barber of Seville. I wondered if there was a woman somewhere named Barbara Seville. It seemed so right. It also occurred to me that there ought to be someone named Gloria Monday, as in sic transit. . . .

Recently, I found that my library has the residential telephone directories of the United States on CD-ROM. I discovered that there actually is a Barbara Seville, and she lives in Twin Falls, Idaho. And, to my joy, I found two Gloria Mondays, one in Cocoa, Florida, and one in New York City.

An electronic treasure chest had been opened for me. I felt in this great country there should be a woman named Rosetta Stone. I found five of them (Portland, Oregon; Morris Plains, New Jersey; Ellicot City, Maryland; Miami, Florida; and Leavenworth, Kansas). Probably they are daughters of archaeologists, linguists and historians.

A memorable name is a head start in life. It gets noticed and remembered and, therefore, is an advantage that parents can confer on a child at no cost. But it isn't available to everyone. To achieve a memorable name, you've got to start with something that has possibilities. For instance, if your last name is Banks and you call your daughter Mary or Jennifer, you've given her a nice name, but not a distinctive one. Call her Robin and she's got a memorable name — Robin Banks (Oakley, Utah; Detroit, Michigan; Fairview, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; North Tonawand, New York).

A memorable name is valuable throughout life. For instance, who would hesitate to buy a used car from Frank Earnest (Rienzi, Mississippi; Alloway, New Jersey; Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Norfolk, Virginia)? No one called Clark Barr (Dayton, Ohio) is ever likely to be referred to as What's-his-name.

Imagine a salesman with a really memorable name making a cold call on a company president. "There's a man here to see you but he doesn't have an appointment," the receptionist tells the president. "His name is Frank N. Stein."

"Send him right up!"

Frank N. Stein (Miami, Florida; Rockville, Maryland; San Diego, California; Norman, Oklahoma) is a name that gets attention and arouses curiosity.

Once I got going, I found my search was limited mostly by my imagination. Three gratifying finds were Georgia Peach (Skaneateles, New York), M. T. Head (Birmingham, Alabama; Durham, North Carolina) and Minnie Vann (Jackson, Tennessee). There were many, many listings for Pearl Harper. Everyone remembers Pearl Harper.

Some family names almost beg for a distinctive given name. Day is one of them. There are several women listed as Sunny Day (Louisville, Kentucky; Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; Orem, Utah), one as Happy Day (Graysville, Pennsylvania) and two as Summer Day (Derby, New York; Anderson, South Carolina). There are dozens of June Days but not many May Days, possibly because most parents don't want their daughters sounding as though they are calling for help whenever they identify themselves.

Men's names aren't as easy to make memorable as women's, but some guys make a good showing anyway. A little work on my computer keyboard turned up Phil Harmonic (New York City), Lance Boyle (Bath, New Hampshire) and King Fisher (Miami, Florida). I found one Al Dente (Westminster, California). There is Albert Fresco (Manhasset, New York; Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania) and Albert Dente (Medford, Massachusetts; Commack, New York). Very likely their friends call them Al. James Dandy (Phoenix, Arizona; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Hodges, South Carolina) must be Jim to everyone. Famous show business teams can end up as memorable names: Laurel Hardy (Irvine, Kentucky; Flushing, New York) and Stephen Eady (Chattanooga, Tennessee; Alexander City, Alabama).

The parents of Nosmo King (Sanibel, Florida; Des Plaines, Illinois) could promise their children that their names would be everywhere. But despite its frequency on the street, I couldn't find a Nopar King anywhere.

Some names are only distinctive in telephone directories or other alphabetical listings where the last name appears first. For example, Cracker, Jack (Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania), Dollar, Bill (Lakeland, Florida; Eclectic, Alabama; Amarillo, Texas; Aurora, Illinois), Wise, Guy (Warren, Maine; Middletown, Pennsylvania; Marianna, Florida).

I found Sweet, Lorraine (Whitakers, North Carolina; Woodbridge, Virginia; Tampa, Florida; Marion, Iowa) and Sweet, Sue (Holly Springs, Georgia; Boonton, New Jersey; Clarks, Nebraska). In Lake Providence, Louisiana, there is a Sweet, Georgia B., and I am sure the B. stands for Brown. Dozens of women are named West, Virginia, but there's only one North, Carolina (West Palm Beach, Florida). My favorite name in reverse order is Oopsy, Daisy (Providence, Rhode Island).

Then there are the palindromic names. If your name is Mark Kram (Los Angeles, California; Saint Louis, Missouri) or Marc Cram (Hobart, Indiana), it's the same in either direction.

All these memorable names left me with the feeling that my own is quite forgettable. If only my parents had named me Sword, my phone book listing might have really given me an edge.

By Joseph F. Wilkinson

 

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