Bond, Bananas, and Humperdink Fangboner

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March 23, 2018 by libroshombre

 

Nineteenth century poet and reformer Helen Hunt Jackson once wrote, “Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; Each to his passion; what’s in a name?” But then, she predated Humperdink Fangboner, a Sandusky, Ohio lumberyard owner, and his wife Fanny, whose neighbors, according to “John Train’s Most Remarkable Names,” “include Ovid Futch, Xenophon Hassenpflug, Kitty Ditty, and E. Kickapoo Banfill, Lecturer.” A noted Boston financial advisor, Train began collecting strange yet documented names in the 1940s, referring to his hobby as the “Office of Nomenclature Stabilization,” and published small, hilarious compilations. In 2015 the Paris Review republished an article by Train from the 1970s, “How to Name Your Baby,” that included verified names like Osborn Outhouse, Mrs. Belcher Wack Wack, and the Virgin Islands’ Commissioner of Education, A. Moron.

A.Word.A.Day recently listed names that became verbs, distinguishing between “hoovering” (a synonym for vacuuming, derived from Hoover vacuums), and “hooverizing” (“to be sparing in the use of something, especially food … after Herbert C. Hoover, who as head of the US Food Administration during WWI encouraged citizens to eat less.”). This led to an article about the names of types of names. Generally speaking, words containing “nym” relate to names and naming. So “pseudonym” is from “pseudo,” the Greek for “false,” “allonym” (“other name”) is the name of a person that’s used as a pseudonym by one or more other people, as when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay all wrote Federalist Papers using “Publius,” who was a founder of the Roman Republic.

But wait! There’s more! A proper name is an “anthroponym” (literally “man name”), a “gamonym” is a named acquired through marriage, an “autonym” (“self name”) is what inhabitants call the place they live, and an “aptronym is a recent coinage playing on ‘apt,’ denoting a surname coincidentally appropriate to a person’s profession.” Train collected a bunch of aptronyms: Roman psychiatrist Dr Dotti, a Canadian pathologist names Dr. Deadman, and Garnish Lurch, a railway engineer at the throttle when 178 were killed in a Jamaican train crash.

Hearing about the Young Turks while listening to the library’s audio version of Eugene Rogers’ “Fall of the Ottomans” led to pulling out Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, where I learned they were a “Turkish reformingparty seeking to transform the decadent Turkish Empire into a modern European state” but unfortunately allied with Germany in WWI and were deposed. Today, “young turks” designates “any group of relatively youthful, capable and ambitious people in politics and without.”

Stopping with one Brewer’s article is harder than a single potato chip, and there was a cross-reference to “Angry Young Man,” which refers to 20th century British writers who were “typically young and of provincial lower-middle-class or working-class origin” who were intent to take on “the Establishment.” A Merriam-Webster Words at Play feature described nicknames for important people. “Baas,” the Dutch word for “master,” was used in 17th-century Colonial America, evolving into “boss” in the 1800s as meaning “foreman, supervisor, or manager … Language commentators, including American frontier author James Fennimore Cooper, viewed the word with distaste, although members of the working class embraced it readily.” Soon “boss” was used for gang and political leaders, as in “Boss Tweed.” Eventually boss “acquired general connotations of excellence, and by the end of the 19th century, it was established as a noun for things of a superior kind as well as an all-purpose adjective meaning ‘excellent’ or ‘first-rate.’”

“Top banana,” on the other hand, entered American slang in the early 1900s “as the name of the leading comedian in a burlesque show” but was soon adopted generally to mean “leader” or “most important person.” When teams of vaudeville comedians exchanged banter, “the one that gets the punch line gets the banana … The foil for the top banana is known as the second banana.”

Second’s fine with Barnaby Usansky, whose middle names are 183 letters long, good for Guinness’ second-longest name for a living person award. And in 2006 David Fearn changed his name to James Bond, with his middle names being the sixty-seven words comprising all Ian Fleming’s Bond titles. Strange names are sources of pride for some, but as William Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”

 

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