Being famous under a pseudonym can lead to problems. Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, once learned that Ernest Hemingway was staying in a room at the same hotel he was staying at. He knocked on Mr. Hemingway’s door and introduced himself as Eric Blair, and Mr. Hemingway asked what he wanted. Mr. Blair then reintroduced himself as George Orwell, and Mr. Hemingway said, “Why didn’t you say so?” Then he invited him in for a drink. Mr. Blair could have told Mr. Hemingway about some odd experiences. For example, Mr. Orwell once rented a room from a landlady who was proud because she had worked for a nobleman. She was so proud that when she locked herself out of her house, she would not let her husband and Mr. Blair go next door to borrow a ladder to get to a high window and enter the house because she was too proud to associate with the neighbors. Instead, her husband and Mr. Blair walked a mile and borrowed a ladder from one of her relatives. And while working as a dishwasher and a porter in a Paris hotel, he was once ordered to get a single peach because a rich customer had ordered one. Since the hotel did not have a peach on the premises, Mr. Blair was ordered to find one or be fired. The shops were closed, but he found a basket of peaches hanging in a window. Rather than lose his job, he broke the window and stole one peach.
In some parts of the world, girls are not prized as highly as boys. For example, in India, girls are sometimes unwanted because providing dowries and paying for weddings for them is very expensive. Boys, on the other hand, are valued because when they get married, they receive a dowry and bring money into the family. In India, many girls have been given the names “Nakusa” or “Nakushi.” In Hindi, these names mean “Unwanted.” In October 2011, hundreds of girls in central India attended a renaming ceremony in which they shed their unwanted names and instead chose new names for themselves. Their new, self-chosen names include “Aishwarya” after a Bollywood star, “Savitri” after a Hindi goddess, and “Vaishali,” which in Hindi means “prosperous, beautiful, and good.” A 15-year-old girl who had shed her old name of “Nakusa” for her new name of “Ashmita,” which in Hindi means “very tough,” said, “Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy.”
Lee Child created the tough-guy detective character Jack Reacher, hero of a series of detective novels. Where did the name come from? Mr. Child is a tall man, and a little old lady in a supermarket said to him, “You’re a nice tall gentleman, so would you reach that can for me?” His wife even said to him, “If this writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always be a reacher in a supermarket.” These days, Mr. Child smiles when he reads somebody’s comments about how he must have chosen the name “Reacher” because of “its forward-going, striving, progressive implications.” The name “Jack” came about because when Mr. Child created the character many detectives had “cute or complex first names,” he says, explaining, “I wanted to underpin Reacher’s blunt and straightforward manner with a blunt and straightforward name. I didn’t think the character would have worked with, say, McNaughten Lawrence for a name.”
Sassy, a magazine for North American teenagers, once mentioned the deodorant Teen Spirit, which it liked, but about which the Sassy writer also wrote the phrase “gag on the name.” Supposedly, Kathleen Hanna, lead singer for the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, read Sassy and then spray-painted “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a wall at Kurt Cobain’s dwelling. Of course, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became the lead song off Nevermind, an album by Kurt’s band, Nirvana. Of course, Kurt also married Courtney Love, and they were very much in love. Courtney once apologized to Kurt because she had a zit, and Kurt replied, “Zits are beauty marks.”
Larry Parnes was an early British rock-star manager. He often discovered talent and gave the performers new, more exciting names. Often, the first name was homey, and the second name was dynamic: Vince Eager, Georgie Fame, Johnny Goode, Dickie Pride, and Marty Wilde. Of course, some names were better than others. Vince Eager complained about another name that Mr. Parnes had thought up after giving Mr. Eager his name: “Why couldn’t Larry have christened me Billy Fury?”
Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, once got to meet anti-nuclear weapons activist Bertrand Russell, who was then in his nineties. The meeting did not go well. At Mr. Russell’s home in Wales, Mr. Heller introduced himself, and Mr. Russell told him, “Go away, damn you! Never come back here again!” Fortunately, a servant came running after Mr. Heller and explained that Mr. Russell had thought that Mr. Heller was Edward Teller, aka the father of the atomic bomb.
Light soprano and coloratura Natalie Dessay ran into voice problems. After discovering that she had a pseudocyst on one vocal cord and a polyp on the other, she underwent surgery—twice—to correct the problem. The operations worked. By the way, she is French but prefers “Natalie” to the French “Nathalie” in honor of Natalie Wood. In addition, she has named her three cats Cyst, Nodule, and Polyp.
Stan Laurel was funny in his old age. At a stationery story, a man kind of recognized him, saying, “Aren’t you…,” but the man was unable to come up with a name, so Mr. Laurel suggested a name: “Oliver Hardy.” The man replied, “Right. Whatever happened to Laurel?” Mr. Laurel sadly replied, “Oh, he went balmy.”
When he was four years old, C.S. Lewis took a big step toward independence by announcing that he had a new name: Jacksy. His parents and brother went along with the new name, which was later shortened to Jacks, and still later shortened to Jack, the nickname that he kept for the rest of his life.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” — William Shakespeare
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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