I admit to a life-long fascination with names – specifically the names people we don’t know give to law firms, subdivisions, products, cars, boats, businesses, parks and the like.
There is considerable humor, irony, and often-outright deception in the choice of names. Politicians lead the pack in naming roads, monuments, and public buildings after people they have harassed, investigated, even imprisoned. How else to explain the proliferation of Martin Luther King Boulevards throughout the country.
As a young man, business brought me to Washington D.C. on a regular basis. Our capitol boasts more law firms than any other place on earth. The lawyer’s section in the D.C. yellow pages dwarfs all other categories. “Higgenbotham – Smedly – Hammersmith – Bernstein – and Fudd.” How to explain Bernstein? “Sarducci, Castagnetti, Corleone, Martarana, and Bagdesarian.” Rarely do old-line Italian lawyers elevate a lone Armenian to the masthead.
Subdivisions, multi-family developments, are named to mislead the house hunter. “Azure de Sol” seems to exaggerate a tenement like 300-unit apartment project overlooking railroad tracks in Cleveland. “Hacienda del Norte” doesn’t accurately convey the atmosphere of a trailer park in Peoria. “Wentworth by the Sea”, not entirely appropriate for a tract of homes in greater Boise.
Transom pollution is the subject of constant dialogue among boaters, as names must be permanently displayed on all vessels, registered, and used to identify one’s craft when radioing a marina, the Coast Guard, or another boat.
In every harbor there is at least one “Wet Dream”, often affixed to an elegant motor yacht. Recently walking a dock in Northern Michigan, I encountered “Kemo Sabe” – “Our Porche’n” – “Daddy’s Little Girl 3” – “An Orgasm”. Owning a fine looking craft does not require good taste.
Cars are another matter altogether as the world’s largest and most successful companies are responsible for giving us Camry, Cressida, Montero, Cattera, Passatt, Durango, and perhaps the ultimate low water mark – the Renault Fuego. Who in their right mind would want to drive an ugly French car prominently labeled Fuego?
It is cruel enough to name a child Druscilla Cherry – but for her philanthropic father to name a wing in a hospital, or an Elementary School after her is reprehensible.
We were all named by others. We have no say in the selection of street names or the brand names we choose to purchase. If we had a vote, would we subscribe to Yahoo – listen to Smashing Pumpkins – watch a Quasar – wash with Lava – lubricate with Vaseline – drink Sky - wear Tommy?. Perhaps not. Would we remember Marilyn as Norman Jean – Ralph Lauren as Lipschitz – Little Richard as Dick Penniman?. Perhaps not.
Names, while often inappropriate, and as with Fuego meaningless by themselves, are nonetheless fun as we each react differently to the word or words we choose to label things, and interpret them differently. Elvis – Jelly – Monica – Beatles – Tiger – Air – Ass. The list is endless.