Name Quotes 84: Al, Gene, Sonatine

Welcome to the monthly quote post! There are a lot of celebrities in this one, so let’s start with…

Actor Emilio Estevez — who pronounces his surname ESS-teh-vez, instead of the Spanish way, ess-TEH-vezdiscussing his name [vid] on Talk Soup with Nessa in 2019:

So I was born on 203rd Street in South Bronx. And, at the time, my father had this very Hispanic-sounding last name. […] A lot people, a lot of these agents, and folks said, if you wanna work in this business, you gotta have a more Anglo-sounding name. Of course times have changed, but there was that moment where he was finally Broadway — 1965, ’66 — and his father came from Dayton (he was from Spain, of course) and looked up on the marquee, and saw the three names that were starring in the play, and one of them was “Martin Sheen” and not his real name, Ramón Estévez. And my grandfather just looked up, and he just shook his head, and he was so disappointed. And my father saw that. And so when I began to get into this business, we had that conversation. And he said, don’t make the same mistake I did.

…A few sentences later, Estevez added:

I can’t tell you how many people have stopped me on the street and said, you know, just seeing your name on a poster, just seeing your name on screen, meant so much to me, you have no idea.

(Martin Sheen’s stage name was created from the names of CBS casting director Robert Dale Martin and televangelist archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.)

Singer Billy Idol, born William Broad, discussing his stage name [vid] with Karyn Hay on the New Zealand TV show Radio with Pictures in 1984:

Q: Why did you choose the name Billy Idol, especially in a time when [there’s] Johnny Rotten, Ret Scabies, you know?

A: Exactly, I mean that’s the point. That’s exactly the point. […] I thought, first of all, of course, of I-D-L-E, you know, idle. Cause this chemistry teacher when I was at school — I got 8 out of 100 for chemistry, I hated chemistry — so he wrote, “William is idle,” right? And I thought that was great to get 8 out of 10 [sic] for chemistry, cause I hated the hell out of it. So I thought that was respectable, so I thought it was worthwhile being called I-D-O-L, idol. Also, it’s good fun making fun of show business. I’m not into show business, I’m into rock ‘n’ roll.

Composer Bear McCreary’s baby name announcement from mid-2014:

Raya and I are proud to announce our greatest collaboration is finally here. 

Sonatine Yarbrough McCreary was born 6/2/14 and is filling our lives with joy, music… and poop.

(The musical term sonatina means “small sonata” in Italian. A sonata refers to a piece that is played — as opposed to a cantata, a piece that is sung.)

From an article about Amy Schumer legally changing her son’s name:

The I Feel Pretty star revealed her decision to change her 11-month-old son’s name on the newest episode of her podcast 3 Girls, 1 Keith on Tuesday. Schumer and her husband Chris Fischer named their first child Gene Attell Fischer, born May 5, with his middle name serving as a tribute to their good friend comic Dave Attell.

“Do you guys know that Gene, our baby’s name, is officially changed? It’s now Gene David Fischer. It was Gene Attell Fischer, but we realized that we, by accident, named our son ‘genital,'” Schumer told cohosts Rachel Feinstein, Bridget Everett, and Keith Robinson.

…More to the point, from Amy’s Instagram:

Oh, like you never named your kid Genital fissure!!!!!!!

Three quotes from a fantastic article in the NYT about Weird Al Yankovic (discovered via Nancy Friedman).

…On his Alfred-ness:

Although Alfred’s grades were perfect, and he could solve any math problem you threw at him, his social life was agonizing. Imagine every nerd cliche: He was scrawny, pale, unathletic, nearsighted, awkward with girls — and his name was Alfred. And that’s all before you even factor in the accordion.

…On how his surname turned him into an accordion player:

[The accordion] came from a door-to-door salesman. The man was offering the gift of music, and he gave the Yankovics a simple choice: accordion or guitar. This was 1966, the golden age of rock, the year of the Beatles’ “Revolver” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” A guitar was like a magic amulet spraying sexual psychedelic magic all over the world. So Yankovic’s mother chose the accordion. This was at least partly because of coincidence: Frankie Yankovic, a world-famous polka player, happened to share the family’s last name. No relation. Just a wonderful coincidence that would help to define Alfred’s entire life.

…On his Alfred-ness again:

The nickname “Weird Al” started as an insult. It happened during his first year of college. This was a fresh start for Alfred — a chance to reinvent himself for a whole new set of people. He had no reputation to live down, no epic humiliations. And so he decided to implement a rebrand: He introduced himself to everyone not as Alfred but as “Al.” Alfred sounded like the kind of kid who might invent his own math problems for fun. Al sounded like the opposite of that: a guy who would hang out with the dudes, eating pizza, casually noodling on an electric guitar, tossing off jokes so unexpectedly hilarious they would send streams of light beer rocketing out of everyone’s noses.

The problem was that, even at college, even under the alias of Al, Yankovic was still himself. He was still, fundamentally, an Alfred.

Comedian Kevin Hart on choosing baby names:

I wish I could say that I am the main guru, [but] I am awful when it comes to the names. That is not my expertise. […] I say the same thing every time. It’s either Kevin or Kevina. I got two names. That’s it. So if you never go with either one of those then I’m no good to you.

For more name-related quotes, check out the name quotes category.

Name Story: Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong photo

Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong was born “Wong Liu Tsong” in Los Angeles in 1905.

Here’s what she had to say about her birth name in 1926:

I was named Wong Lew Song, which means Frosted Yellow Willows. A rather unusual name, isn’t it. Most Chinese children have names, which, interpreted into English, sound rather attractive, though they wouldn’t do for everyday use. They are all right in poetry, but I wouldn’t want to be called Frosted Yellow Willows by my acquaintances. It sounds altogether too quaint for a modern Chinese girl.

Here’s what she had to say about her American name and her stage name in 1928:

I was educated in Los Angeles. […] Our family did not live in the Chinese quarter but on Figueroa Street, where our neighbors were Americans and we were called by our English names. The doctor who brought me into the world named me ‘Anna’; my Chinese name is Tsong. When I was old enough to begin to think about a career, I added ‘May’ to ‘Anna,’ partly because we [daughters] all had four-letter names and I wanted to be different, and partly because it made a prettier signature.

(Her siblings’ American names were Lulu, James, Mary, Frank, Roger, and Richard.)

And, finally, here’s something funny I spotted in a newspaper about the 1924 movie Thief of Bagdad, which featured Wong:

The Mongol slave, a part that required emotional subtlety and balance, was played by Anna May Wong, a Chinese girl, educated in America. Her Chinese name is Lew Wong Song [sic], and means two yellow willows. When the picture was being filmed Miss Wong almost walked out on her job because an enthusiastic press agent misunderstood the translation of her name and published it as “two yelling widows.”

I saw several versions of this “two yelling widows” story, but never managed to track down the press agent’s original mis-translation.

Sources:

A Spike in Eulalias

Infanta Eulalia

In the early 1890s, the baby name Eulalia saw a distinct spike in usage:

  • 1895: 34 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1894: 39 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1893: 55 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1892: 19 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1891: 20 baby girls named Eulalia

That’s what the SSA data indicates; here’s the spike mirrored in the SSDI data:

  • 1895: 81 people named Eulalia
  • 1894: 92 people named Eulalia
  • 1893: 156 people named Eulalia
  • 1892: 59 people named Eulalia
  • 1891: 46 people named Eulalia

What caused it?

Spain’s 29-year-old Infanta Eulalia — whose full name at birth was María Eulalia Francisca de Asís Margarita Roberta Isabel Francisca de Paula Cristina María de la Piedad. (The name Eulalia is derived from the ancient Greek word eulalos, meaning “well spoken.”)

In 1893, she visited the U.S. to attend the Chicago World’s Fair — officially the “Columbian Exposition,” held in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.

This Columbus connection made the fair’s organizers eager to host a member of the Spanish royal family as a guest of honor. So Queen Isabella II of Spain sent her youngest daughter, Eulalia, to represent the family.

Even before Eulalia appeared at the fair on June 7, she attracted U.S. media attention over the 49 days she spent traveling to various places (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Washington DC, and New York) along the way to Chicago.

Once she finally arrived, she was followed closely by the media. Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune offered daily updates on Eulalia and her various activities (e.g., parades, banquets, concerts).

However, despite the glowing reports on the front pages, the Tribune began carrying references to misunderstandings and insinuations of friction over matters of etiquette, precedence, and, especially, the Princess’ cavalier attitude toward arrangements made for her.

In fact, at the end of her “brief but not altogether satisfactory” visit, the Tribune went so far as to say the efforts put in by those who’d entertained Eulalia and her entourage were akin to “seeds flung away on barren ground.”

…All this press coverage, both positive and negative, gave the name a lot of extra exposure during 1893. And this resulted in more U.S. parents naming their babies “Eulalia” the same year.

What are your thoughts on the name Eulalia? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

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Downtown Baby Name: Petula

petula clark, downtown, 1960s, music, song

Here’s an easy one. The baby name Petula appeared on the U.S. charts in the mid-’60s:

  • 1969: 16 baby girls named Petula
  • 1967: 39 baby girls named Petula [peak usage]
  • 1967: 23 baby girls named Petula
  • 1966: 20 baby girls named Petula
  • 1965: 19 baby girls named Petula [debut]
  • 1964: unlisted

This is the year the catchy song “Downtown” was a hit for English singer Petula Clark.

Petula was born in 1932, singing on radio by 1942, and putting out singles by the mid-’50s. She’d achieved fame in Europe, but when “Downtown” was released in late 1964, it brought her international fame.

“Downtown” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1965. Several months later it won the Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording, beating contenders like “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles. (A Billboard writer admitted that “Downtown” winning in the Rock & Roll category “puzzled many.”)

Petula’s birth name was Sally. The nickname “Petula” was coined by her father. Here’s what she said about her name(s) during a recent interview:

True or false: your dad named you after two of his former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla?

I have no idea if it’s true or false. This is a story that’s come up, and I don’t think it came from me – it’s just there. It could be. I’ve never heard of anyone called Pet or Ulla.

I’ve never heard of anyone else called Petula either, though.

No, but there are some Petulas. There’s actually a Petula Clark in the States. I don’t much like it actually. It sounds like a sort of stagey type name and I prefer Sally, which is the name on my birth certificate. I’ve always been called Petula.

What are your thoughts on the name Petula?

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