Sunday, 21 February 2010
What’s in a name?
Thinking about Goodluck Jonathan, the new president of Nigeria, brought to mind other names that people have had bestowed on them through history by ignorant or hopeful parents. There is, of course, the ever memorable Praise-God Barebone, a seventeenth century Leveller, who may very well have been altogether forgotten but for the fact that Oliver Cromwell’s Nominated Assembly was to achieve eternal ridicule as the Barebone’s Parliament.
But there are names a lot less benign than Goodluck Jonathan or Praise-God Barebone. I’m not recommending this but if you want a comprehensive catalogue you could do no better than to dip into the smutty schoolboy vulgarity of Potty, Fartwell and Knob: From Luke Warm to Minty Badger - Extraordinary But True Names of British People, an altogether hilarious compilation of the weird, the wonderful and the downright bizarre by Russell Ash. I mention but a few, and do remember these names are not made up
There is Seymour Bust, born in Essex in 1841; Pleasant Titty, baptised in Margate in 1768; there is Sue Age, born in Glasgow in 1849; Sexey Butt, born in Dundry, Somerset in 1803; Nancy Boys, born in Brighton in 1842; Posthumous Mince, who died in Greenwich, Kent in 1839; Easter Bunny, born in Yorkshire in 1851; Mad Looney, who died in Warwick in 1894; Trannie Pickup, born in Portsmouth in 1853; Turd Collar, born in Ireland in 1821, and there is –wait for it- Effing Dick, born in Glasgow in 1848!
These names were doubtless fairly innocent at the time, only acquiring a retrospective hilarity. Who knows what future humour may emerge from our innocent-sounding names!
There is one story that I came across a couple of years ago concerning another African politician, Canaan Banana, Zimbabwe’s first president. Now the name itself, although mildly amusing, became outrageously funny because of certain circumstances emerging from the man’s career. He had a very poor relationship with the press, something politicians should be at pains to avoid because journalists are a vengeful crew. His name was obviously a headline writer’s dream. To make things even worse his daughter was called Anna Banana. Anyway, the name was used in so many comic associations that he actually passed a law banning people making jokes about it – and I am not joking!
But then came the big one: Banana was indicted on a charge of homosexual rape. I feel sure you can picture what followed, headlines like Man Raped by Banana. His unsuccessful appeal after conviction was an occasion for further ribaldry; Banana loses Sex Appeal, being one particular favourite. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, just as Banana by any other name would have been as bad…only not quite so funny.