Time for the latest batch of name quotes!
From Sanjana Ramachandran’s recent essay “The Namesakes“:
Shanaya Patel’s story, in more ways than one, encapsulated an India opening up to the world. In March 2000, Shanaya’s parents were at a café in Vadodara, Gujarat, when some Shania Twain tunes came on: she was also the artist who had been playing when her father saw her mother for the first time, “during their whole arranged-marriage-thing.” Finally, after eight months of “baby” and “munna,” Shanaya’s parents had found a name for her.
But “to make it different,” Shanaya’s parents changed the spelling of her name slightly. “Before me, all my cousins were named from this or that religious book,” she said. “When my parents didn’t want to go down that road, the elders were all ‘How can you do this!’—but my parents fought for it. There was a small controversy in the family.”
(Her essay also inspired me to write this post about the name Sanjana!)
About the “naming” of a Native American man who was discovered in California in 1911, from a 1996 UC Berkeley news release:
Under pressure from reporters who wanted to know the stranger’s name, [anthropologist] Alfred Kroeber called him “Ishi,” which means “man” in Yana. Ishi never uttered his real name.
“A California Indian almost never speaks his own name,” wrote Kroeber’s wife, “using it but rarely with those who already know it, and he would never tell it in reply to a direct question.”
About street names in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, from the book Names of New York (2021) by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro:
Clymer, Ellery, Hart; Harrison, Hooper, Heyward, Hewes; Ross, Rush, Rutledge, Penn — they’re all names belonging to one or another of those fifty-six men who scrawled their letters at the Declaration [of Independence]’s base. So are Taylor and Thornton, Wythe and Whipple.
[Keap Street’s] name does not match that of one of the Declaration’s signers, but it tries to: “Keap” is apparently a misrendering of the surname of the last man to leave his mark on it: Thomas McKean of Pennsylvania, whose name’s illegibility was perhaps due to his having rather less space to scrawl it by the time the document reached him than John Hancock did.
From a 2008 CNN article about unusual names:
“At times, for the sake of avoiding an uncomfortable conversation or throwing someone off guard, I answer to the names of ‘Mary’ or ‘Kelly’,” says Bluzette Martin of West Allis, Wisconsin. At restaurants, “the thought of putting an employee through the pain of guessing how to spell and pronounce ‘Bluzette’ just isn’t worth it to me.”
Martin was named after “Bluzette,” an up-tempo jazz waltz written by Jean “Toots” Thielemans. Despite her daily problems with this name, it certainly has its perks, like when she met Thielemans in 1987 at a club in Los Angeles. “When I met [him], he thanked my mother,” she says.
(Here’s “Bluesette” (vid) by Thielemans, who was Belgian.)
From a 2009 article about Microsoft executive J Allard in Boston University’s alumni magazine Bostonia:
Allard still loves video games (his all-time favorite is “Robotron”). And even his name (legally changed from James) is an homage to computers. In the late 1980s, he explains, “it was my log-in on all of the computer systems at school, and it stuck.”
From a BBC article about Doug Bowser becoming president of Nintendo of America in 2019:
In what is surely one of the most charming cases of nominative determinism ever, it has been announced the new head of Nintendo of America will be a man named Doug Bowser.
Bowser, as Nintendo fans will know all too well, has long been Super Mario’s main nemesis — a foe who, for more than three decades now, routinely kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend, Princess Peach.
Mr. Bowser will take over in April from retiring Reggie Fils-Aime, a highly popular figure among Nintendo fans.
“With a name like Bowser, who better to hold the keys to the Nintendo castle?” Mr. Fils-Aime said about his successor in a video message posted on Twitter on Thursday.
From a 1942 item in Time magazine about ‘Roberto’ being used as a fascist greeting:
Last week the authorities ordered 18 Italian-Americans excluded from the San Francisco military area as dangerous to security — the first such action against white citizens. The wonder was that it was not done earlier: everybody heard about the goings on in the North Beach Italian colony. Fascists there used to say RoBerTo as a greeting — Ro for Rome, Ber for Berlin, To for Tokyo. Italy sent teachers, books and medals for the Italian schools. Mussolini won a popularity contest hands down over Franklin Roosevelt.
From an AP news story about the origin of Armand Hammer’s name:
Industrialist Armand Hammer often said he was named after Armand Duval, the hero in Alexandre Dumas’ play “Camille.”
But he conceded later that his father, a socialist, also had in mind the arm-and-hammer symbol of the Socialist Labor Party.
For years, people erroneously thought Hammer was connected to the company that makes Arm & Hammer baking soda.
From an essay about Island Cemetery (on Block Island, in Rhode Island) by Martha Ball:
The cemetery, our own City on a Hill, has always been a place of enchantment, holding stones lacking uniformity even within the same lot, bearing names alien to our time; Philamon Galusha, Icivilli, Darius. It is enhanced by an awareness of the sheer physical accomplishment it embodies, a steep slope terraced long before we had today’s array of earth moving equipment.
[Neither Darius Rucker nor I would agree that the name Darius is “alien to our time.” Looking over the other names at Island Cemetery, I saw all the expected Biblical entries (Peleg, Obed, Barzilla; Zilpah, Huldah, Hepzebah), plenty of fanciful feminines (Lucretia, Cordelia, Sophronia), and a few references to current events: a Martin VanBuren born in 1839, a Cassius Clay born in 1854, an Elsworth (middle name) born in 1861, an Ambrose Everett born in 1862, and a Ulysses born in 1868.]
From an article about early Soviet film director Dziga Vertov at Russia Beyond:
Vertov’s real name was David Kaufman, which unambiguously points to his Jewish origin. But the desire of the talented youth from Bialystok (at the time part of the Russian Empire, today Poland) to change his surname upon arrival in Moscow was unlikely to have been due to anti-Semitism — in the 1920s it was not as developed as in the 1950s. Vertov, like many avant-garde artists, probably just chose a new name to herald “a new life.”
In Ukrainian dziga means whirligig, spinning top, while vertov comes from the verb vertet (to spin). The two form something like “the spinning whirligig,” a name that was entirely fitting for the man who bore it.
From an article in The Economist about the unusual names of Tabasco, Mexico:
[The unusual names] impressed Amado Nervo, a Mexican poet. In every family “there is a Homer, a Cornelia, a Brutus, a Shalmanasar and a Hera,” he wrote in “The Elysian Fields of Tabasco”, which was published in 1896. Rather than scour the calendar for saints’ names, he wrote, parents of newborns “search for them in ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Aeneid’, the Bible and in the history books”. Andrés Iduarte, a Tabascan essayist of the 20th century, concurred. Tabasco is a place “of Greek names and African soul”, he wrote, endorsing the cliche that the state has similarities with Africa.
From a 2014 article in Vogue about 1950s fashion model Dovima:
Dovima, born Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, would have been 87 today. She hailed from Jackson Heights, Queens, and was purportedly discovered in 1949 when she strolled out of an Automat near the Vogue offices. The name Dovima wasn’t thought up by a canny publicist, if was concocted by Dorothy herself, invented for an imaginary playmate during a lonely childhood when she was bedridden with rheumatic fever.
(Dovima was the first single-name fashion model. She did legally change her name from Dorothy to Dovima at some point, according to the records, and a handful of baby girls born in the late ’50s were named after her, e.g., Dovima Marie Ayers, b. 1959, VT.)
P.S. “Louvima” is another three-in-one name I’ve blogged about…