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.


  1. I was overcome with a fit of the giggles as I was writing this. :-))

  2. those people..., sexey butt, pleasent titty... its like their lives had been written off to become the butt of a practical joke that would be pulled off by every generation to come. which in turn makes their parents, evil, psychotic, insane and sadistic with a twisted sense of humor and inane perspective on life. i have a weird name as it is. but then after listening to these, i am actually feeling better. But i must say. Mr. Banana's name was soo bad. that even his victim would have to live with the shame of being raped by a fruit. which would make the poor fella feel only more helpless since he couldn't stop even a common fruit from taking advantage of him. Mr. banana's daughter would had become instantly famous with a name like that if she chose to be a porn star. i think i'll be getting a copy of that book. :)

  3. Do remember though that words like 'butt' and 'titty' would not have the same ribald associations in the nineteenth century than they do now. But 'sexey' surely always meant sexy.
    Raped by a fruit! :-))

  4. Lol @ banana rape! I'd be dissapointed if I found out that a lot of these peoples descendents had ended up changing their fantastical names to something generic. I suppose it relies on the first name also, so maybe the possibility for innuendo still exists :).

    No Wayne Kerr? I'm sure there's a Wayne Kerr in my town or neighbouring village.

    I was amazed when I learnt that Paul Pott won Britain's Got Talent, could have sworn he was a mass murderer.

  5. Oh, probably, Jimmy. The thing is that some of these names, as I have said, really only acquired retrospective humour, like Daily Boner, born in Kent in 1898. But surely Large Bee (Notts, 1829) and Stale Bun (Sunderland, 1851) always meant large bee and stale bun!

  6. A bit late in responding to this, but as the author of Potty, Fartwell & Knob (see, I thought I should - and say well done Ana! If you enjoyed this, you might also like the even ruder sequel, Busty, Slag and Nob End - and Frou-Frou, Frisby and Brick: Names Not to Call Your Baby is forthcoming...

  7. Thanks, Russell. :-) I shall look out for that. The first one had me in absolute stitches. :-))