Names

Our publisher has described the origin of his name elsewhere. Interesting names are all around us.

The Roman Catholic Church had a Cardinal named Sin. He was the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin of the Philippines. Quick, anyone who went to Catholic school, what are the Cardinal Sins? Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Cardinal Sin was in reality a man of the utmost virtue, a hero of the People’s revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Marcos. Not as pure is the Rev. Creflo Dollar, who is being investigated by the Feds for misusing his Church’s money.

Doctors are often interesting people. There is Dr. Esther Lovejoy, a gynecologist, who was the first woman to direct a city department of health in Oregon. Then there is Dr. Roh of S. Korea, who got in trouble for faking data on cloning. Why is this funny? Roh is actually pronounced “No” in the Korean transliteration scheme. Any James Bond fans here? We couldn’t find a Urologist among the many Indian physicians in the US with the name Dr. Chokkalingam. (You have to know Tamil for this one.) In fact most of them seem to become cardiologists. Wonder if they avoid the other specialty on purpose. No luck with a Dr. Mahalingam either. But there is a prominent Urology researcher in the UK named S. Sivalingam.

Governor Hogg of Texas had a twisted sense of humor when he named his daughter Ima. In spite of him, Ima Hogg seems to have led quite a long and productive life. One of our staff has an acquaintance with the last name Likely. He resisted the temptation to name his son Knott. But we ran across the headline Knott Likely to Play This Fall recently. The news is that tight end Eric Knott probably is going to be playing for the Spartans this fall.

An odd name can possibly even help in life. If you have a name like Dick Butkus you have every incentive to train hard and become the roughest, toughest linebacker in your high school. It will eventually get you into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the name “Buttafuoco” does not seem to have inspired that mechanic in Long Island to any great heights of achievement.

The Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives is John Boehner. No wonder that he insists that his last name be pronounced “Baynor”. While we are talking of Republicans, what does Santorum mean for real? It is possible that no one will ever remember the original meaning again.

Even naming a stuffed animal can have surprising consequences. A British school teacher in Sudan almost got flogged because she let a student name a teddy bear Mohammed. Apparently you cannot name an inanimate object after the Prophet. Are those who manufactured outrage over this aware that quite a few inanimate objects in the Islamic world have been named after some other Mohammed? There is a hotel in Morocco named for King Mohammed V. The great bridge across the Bosphorus is named not for the prophet either, but for Sultan Mehmed, the conqueror (Fatih) of Constantinople.

Many North American Hindus were outraged when a Religion Professor wrote an offensive book about Ganesh, the elephant headed God. Especially outrageous was innuendo about a God so much in favor with children. But there is a popular brand of Beedis ( hand-rolled cigarettes) named for Ganesh. Does this not corrupt children as much as Joe Camel? Especially as many of the people rolling the Beedis are children themselves?

Physics has its share of interesting names. One of the early textbooks on Quantum Electrodynamics was written by Walter Heitler. Ironic, as Dr. Heitler was a refugee from Nazi Germany. The seminal paper on Big Bang Theory was authored by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow. Alpher was at the time a student of Gamow, who had a weakness for sophomoric pranks. Gamow thought it would be funny to add the name of his friend Hans Bethe to the paper to make the author list sound more alphabetical. Adding the name of the world’s most famous astrophysicist to the paper did not help Mr. Alpher get the credit he deserves for his work. He slipped into obscurity at least in part because of this bad start.

In mathematics, a Killing vector is one that yields zero when acting on a metric. Students look suspicious when they are assured that there really is a mathematician named Killing after whom it is named. It sounds too much like the annihilation operator (not one of Putin’s henchmen). On the other hand, there is no one named Anti de Sitter. There really is a de Sitter and the geometry with the opposite sign for curvature from de Sitter space is called Anti de Sitter space. Lie algebras are not a way to get away with cheating on your math test. The Norwegian name Lie is pronounced “Lee”.

Physicists have shown a certain flair with naming concepts. It is hard to beat `quark’, the `creation operator’ or `Cosmic Singularity’ although `Strange Attractor’ comes close. The tradition continues with WIMP ( Weakly Interacting Massive Particle) and MACHO ( MAssive Compact Halo Object. OK, they cheat a bit here with the MA.) The worst name of all has to be `black hole’. Perhaps when Wheeler came up with it he didn’t expect people to be looking for `hairy black holes’: he must have thought that the `no hair’ theorem holds always. At the Almanack, we are especially proud of our connection with one of the authors of the paper The Heterotic Life of the D-particle . `D-particles’ sounds a lot better than D-branes (de-brained?) or p-branes.

Although we are in this trade ourselves, we think of the word `blog’ as one of the worst abominations in the English language. It sounds like something you may step on, or some deadly vapor that is wafting towards us. It wasn’t thought up by the same guy who created `webmaster’ (beaten only by `webmistress’).

If only James Thurber were alive to comment on the names of our time: Google, iPod, Apple, MacIntosh, Quad Core (a six-pack wannabe?), water-boarding (sounds like a fun beach activity), hindraf (isn’t there a shampoo for that?), sanctuary mansion (where Frankenstein can take refuge from the villagers wielding pitchforks), GWOT ( WTF is that ?) , RSS( a right-wing paramilitary organizationin India; also a nice way to read blogs), ping-back ( Ouch!), trackback (Are we lost?), Digg Effect (hole in the ground), carbon credit (credit given for making copies of documents)…

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