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The game of the name

Published:Saturday | March 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Contributor

Experiencing the agony of other people calling you names is one thing, but when the name-calling comes from your parents it can be more than traumatic.

Shakespeare, or Will as he was named, had the beautiful Juliet innocently argue, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet." Poet Gertrude Stein stressed for all she was worth that "Rose is rose is rose".

We can ask, "If a cat gives birth in an oven, should her progeny be called muffins?" That is all well and good unless your name is Justin Case, Barb Dwyer or Stan Still and you are among the most unlucky people in Britain.

The BBC recently highlighted the problem in an article titled Most Unfortunate Names Revealed. Among those also at the top of the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin. As the article asked, "And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt." Worse, what if Justin Case was the author of the book, A Stitch In Time?

As a schoolboy, I delighted in book titles and names like Open Pyjamas by I.C. Hares. There were other fictitious book titles like Robots by Ann Droid; All Alone by Saul E. Terry; Allegiance to the British Monarch by Neil Downe; Chinese Meals on Wheels by Rick Shaw; Wish I'd Never Been Born by Rudy Day; Unsolved Mysteries by N. Igma; and The Economy Is Recovering by Knott Quite. Then there were the games to guess who would write what. Sue Flay (The French Chef); Stan Dupp (A Comic's Life); Allison Wanda Land (Biography of Lewis Carroll); Paige Turner (How To Read A Book); and Sandy Shore (Shell Collecting).

However, what the BBC found were true names that were even stranger than the fictional: "Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been "a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life". "When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, 'Stan Still, get a move on' and roll about laughing," he said. "It got hugely boring after a while." Fifty-year-old Rose Bush said she loved her name and was not prickly about it at all. However, there are no comments from Pearl Button, Jo King, Barry Cade, Carrie Oakey and Tim Burr.

The BBC extended its search to America: "Researchers also scoured phone records in the US and found some unlikely names there too. Spare a thought for Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Bill Board the next time you sign your name. A string of Americans also have very job-specific names, including Dr Leslie Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and Les Plack - a dentist in San Francisco."

Other interesting names

A closer look at US names yields some other interesting ones. There is April May, Bonnie Beaver (an obstetrician/gynaecologist) and her colleagues Dr Shirley Fingerhood and Dr Tara Cherry, a surgeon named Dr Slaughter, Dr Look the Hawaiian ophthalmologist, a Mr Harold Assman and lot of Dicks with surnames including Bender, Burns, Bush, Finder (a urologist), Face, Head and Hunter.

The case of 'Dick' is one in which a normal, ordinary English name 'Richard' took a turn for the worse. It was two centuries after the British did it, but the Caribbean has now fully embraced 'Dick' as an epithet. According to my favourite source for offbeat facts 'The Straight Dope', "Richard and Ricard were equally popular in the Middle Ages, and the abbreviations led naturally to diminutives - such as Rich, Richie, Rick, and Ricket.

Rhyming nicknames were also fairly common in the 12th and 13th centuries, and so we also have Hitch from Rich, Hick and Dick from Rick, and Hicket from Ricket ... . The name Dick (like the name Jack) was used colloquially to mean a man or everyman. The expression "every Tom, Dick, or Harry" attests to this as a long-established usage ... . From the usage of Dick to mean average person, other usages appeared.The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites a dick as meaning a type of hard cheese in 1847, which lead to the usage of 'spotted dick' ... . The term 'dick' was also used to mean a riding whip, an apron, the mound around a ditch, and an abbreviation for dictionary around 1860.

Dick also meant a declaration, in which sense the OED cites someone writing in 1878 "I'd take my dying dick" to mean I'd swear a dying declaration." The term 'dick' came to mean policeman around 1908, and then detective. And we finally get to where you started. The use of 'dick' as coarse slang for penis first arises around 1890. Tracking the history of uncouth words is not easy, since such expressions were not generally written down. How 'dick' came to be associated with penis is not known, although the riding whip may have pointed the way."

Much has been made of the diminutive of the former US Vice-President 'Dick' Cheney and his constant criticism of President Obama; and in Trinidad, where the Government is under considerable pressure, its case is not helped by one of the ministers whose double-barrelled surname contains the 'D' word and whose public utterances do not find universal favour among the electorate. "People are saying the prime minister is a dick-tator," one Trini commented, "and his name is not even Richard!"

Tony Deyal was last seen perusing the dick-tionary and issuing a dick-tum to all parents to think carefully before naming their children. Remember today's handsome Richard can become tomorrow's Dick and subject your poor son to a lot of ridickcule.