What is the most personal thing
to give and the easiest to forget?
Why is it so difficult to remember someone’s name? Why is it when I am at a social engagement buoyed by box-wine and jumbo shrimp that I immediately forget someone’s name, like the name didn’t even register?
“____, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, ____.”
Is it a lack of concentration? Is there no original interest? Can I only remember so many names? Does Denise need to go in order to remember Deidre? After all, how many John’s can Jane remember? What separates a Dave from a Dave from a Dave? And how do you separate them from Don?
You don’t. You make small talk and awkwardly work around the simple fact that you cannot remember the name of the person standing next to you:
“______, I’d like to introduce you to my mother…. Mother Jones.”
Ironically, remembering names of family members can be the most difficult. I think our brains are so tired and overwhelmed they decide to designate only one male and one female name to all family members. Have five sons? Doesn’t matter.
“Get over here Fredrick!”
“Oh yeah? Well it’s Frederick now. How do you like that Fredrick?”
Maybe George Foreman was onto something when he started naming most of his children George. After all, an aging boxer is going to have better things to remember than to stare at one of his kids and say, “I could really go for a steak sandwich right now.”
To avoid confusion and out-right forgetting it’s best to have a memorable name. For example, look at this list of Russian leaders:
It’s not an accident that the first and last share the same first name. Vladimir isn’t stocking shelves at a Pasadena Costco. Vladimir isn’t telling you to pre-pay for your gas at a Hoboken Conoco. Vladimir is currently looking at a 3D map of the world determining where to strike.
If you are looking for the exact opposite of Russian names go no further than this list of United Nation Secretary Generals:
Gladwyn Jebb – United Kingdom
Trygue Lie – Norway
Boutros Boutros Ghali – Egypt
Kofi Annan – Ghana
Ban Ki-Moon – South Korea
Are these even real names or are they something a child makes up when talking to stuffed animals? Also, having the word “secretary” in the title doesn’t quite provide an air of authority, like the leader will show up to a meeting with a notepad, pen and coffee from God knows where since you don’t want to upset the Ethiopians and Columbians.
If you want to project power and inhabit an air of leadership, do not call yourself Gladwyn. Go Russian! Even the most common Russian name is far more intriguing than its northern neighbors. To demonstrate, let’s compare the lives of the average Russian to that of a Swede.
Nils Olson: Runs IT support for a local college. Plays mixed-doubles racquetball with the Wilson’s and his wife… What’s her name?
Dimitri Volvakov: International Arms Dealer whose hobbies include raising Bengal tigers and fencing stolen art. Does not care for racquetball.
Sigrid Johnson: Works as a library associate. Spends her free time perfecting her Pepparkakor cookie recipe. May try internet dating. Has no cats, seriously!
Svetlana Zakharchenko: Retired ballerina with a meager state pension. Hobbies include drinking Polish Vodka and smoking Turkish cigarettes. Has multiple lovers but only one great love, her Siberian White Fox, Kiki.
Although not as heraldic as their Russian counterparts, I’ve always held an affinity with Spanish names. Instead of being stoic and bleak, there is a romantic playfulness to names like Arturo, Antonio and Alejandra. This love of the Spanish language began in high school with Espanola I. I was even in the same class as my brother, Chad and cousin, Susan. And to immerse ourselves in the culture, our teacher started calling us by our Spanish names. So Chad was Carlos and Susan, Susana. Unfortunately, my name translated into itself.
David = David
My teacher tried to add a little flavor by calling me Daaaaahveeeed, but that was like pouring store-bought salsa over a semi-frozen burrito. The translation really didn’t take, so one of my classmates started calling me Dabid.
I didn’t much prefer his translation, but what was I going to say? Jeff was a mountain who played on our football team. Also, his Spanish name was Geronimo, which is Spanish for awesome Spanish name.
Like good teeth and shiny hair, having a memorable name can really give you a leg up into today’s society. It’s a tough assignment for parents to pick the best name right out of the gate. Still, some parents get it right.
Sports: Kobe Bryant, named after his parents ordered Japanese takeout
Law: Thurgood Marshall, shortened his name from Thoroughgood
Art: Pablo Picasso, really shortened his name from Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso
Film: Charlize Theron, makes Chuck sound sexy
Technology: Elon Musk, has a sister named Tosca
Business: Warren Buffett didn’t amass a fortune with the name Wally
Literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald, one way to avoid being called Francis
Politics: John Adams… Just kidding. What a snooze.
Yet, for every parent that got the name right, there are more than a few kids that had to change their names to match their circumstance as they got older.
Gordon Sommers is a guy who tries to sell you life insurance while playing racquetball. Sting is the guy you go see play at Madison Square Garden later that night.
Lew Alcindor is the booking agent you call if you need a cover band for your son’s bar mitzvah. Kareem Abdul Jabar is the guy who takes the NBA scoring title with a legendary sky hook.
Archibald Leach works as government patent clerk. Cary Grant is the silver screen legend who gets the girl at the end of the movie, then your girl, then everybody’s girl.
Patricia Patterson Hensley is a woman at your country club who is so charming you want to throw her into the nearest pool. Patsy Cline is the country singer with a name that aches more than her songs.
So what do you do as a parent when naming a child can be a 50/50 split? Well, you can play it safe and go virtuous, but I find it a little sexist that all the names below are female, as if the name itself will be a guard to keep your daughter on the path of the straight and narrow.
Unfortunately, these names can take a quick turn if your daughter decides to take another path. So maybe you can select a name from the Seven Deadly Sins. After all, you can conceal its true nature by using the Latin translation.
Lust = Luxuria
Sloth = Tristita
Envy = Invidia
Greed = Avarita
Speaking of Greed, I’ve always been partial to the word avarice. I think it would make a perfectly acceptable name, a bridge to a more realistic world, like your daughter would neither be good nor bad, but Avarice, like the name may sound pleasant, but there is just a twist to let you know this sweet girl has some bite.
Boys’ names do not much follow the path of good and evil, but tend to be more geared towards trade and title.
Speaking of blue-bloods, you have to feel a little sorry for Donald Trump’s middle son. After all, the oldest gets the brand and the youngest gets a name like he’s going to inherit the family fortune. And the middle son gets a name I already forgot.
I bet in every meeting in every boardroom there is a running internal argument for this middle son that drowns out any other agenda, an argument that is neither voiced nor heard, but indeed felt:
“Come on Dad, Eric? It’s not like there’s a limited supplies of cool names. It wasn’t like you had to hoard Leighton or Dash. Eric? Did you really take one look at me, shrug and say, ‘Looks like an Eric.’
“Yeah, I know Eric is a royal name, but you didn’t even give me a cool hook like ‘Eric the Red’ or ‘Eric Always in the Black’.
“Don Jr. I get. He’s the first. But how do you go from Eric to Baron? That’s like going from JC Penny’s to Tiffany’s, Mitsubishi to Masserati.
“Heck, yeah, I’m angry. Gee, Dad! Baron? Baron?”
Actually, Eric is a perfectly fine name. I worked with an Eric. He sold me a Celica which is a horrible name for a car. He was an attorney at our company and starting a new family with the birth of his first son, Thor.
Maybe Eric wanted to honor his Nordic heritage or give his son a leg up in a dog-eat-Darin world, but naming your child after a mythical hero can be a tricky play if you don’t provide the DNA to back it up. Sure some parents nailed it when they named their future Olympians Venus Williams and Apollo Ono. But do you really want to take the chance of having some shift supervisor at a highway diner yell out, “Where the heck is Neptune? I’ve had it up to my greasy gills with that Roman has-been.”
I personally think a parent should give a wide berth when naming a child. Make the name plain and let the child either fade or grow without the encumbrance. Don’t imprint a destiny. If greatness comes, let a great name follow.
A perfect example would be Genghis Khan. Even if you don’t know the particulars, you know the name. Nobody would ever forget Khan’s name at a cocktail party. Nobody is going to have a conversation with her husband later that evening, sighing, “Who was that nice gentlemen we met this evening? You know the one who is currently wrecking havoc all over Asia.”
No, you are not going to forget Genghis Khan in passing or centuries later. Even among a sea of Ned’s and Bob’s, his name will stand out. Even if you met him at a random focus group, he would immediately make an impression.
HOST: Welcome and thank you for coming to sample a few food items we are hoping to bring to market here at Entrée Entreats. But before we begin, let’s take roll call. Dale Jones?
HOST: Candy Jacobs?
CAROL: Here! And it’s Carol Jacobs. You have me in your system as Candy Jane Jacobs. Is that some kind of joke?
HOST: No, just a typo. We’ll get that corrected right now Carla.
HOST: Is Candy your middle name?
CAROL: I don’t have a middle name.
HOST: Then how did we get Jane?
THE HOST RUNS THROUGH SEVEN MORE NAMES OF NO CONSEQUENCE. THEN HE NOTICES A REMAINING PERSON. UNKEMPT, CLOTHED IN LEATHER HIDES AND A SHOCKING AMOUNT JEWELRY, THIS PERSON EMITS AN ODD COMBINATION OF MUSK, FRANKINCENSE AND FEAR.
HOST: So, it looks like we have one remaining person. May I have your name?
KAHN. You can call me KAHN.
HOST: Is that your first or last name?
HOST: …………….. So, this name, more of a title?
KAHN: More of a declaration. My father named me Temujin.
HOST: There’s a name you don’t hear every day.
DALE: I’ve never heard of it.
HOST: So, Te… Tea… Let’s just go with K-A-H-N to avoid butchering your given name.
KAHN: Temujin means blacksmith, not butcher.
HOST: Good to know. Should I enter that as your profession?
KAHN: Temujin means blacksmith. KAHN means King.
DALE: KING KAHN!
CAROL: Little rich for someone wearing road kill.
HOST: Is that still an employable profession, being a king?
KAHN REPLIES WITH A PENETRATING STARE.
DALE: Go with King.
HOST: King it is. Off hand, how did you come to join us today?
KAHN: Big fan of your Buffalo Ostrich Wings.
HOST: I didn’t know we had an ostrich line. Are you sure you joined the correct group?
KAHN: Is there free food?
KAHN: Then bring it out.
HOST: In good time. I just need to complete your profile. Age?
KANH: Older that the dust beneath your feet and the air you breathe.
HOST: I think the field will only accept a number.
DALE: Put my age.
HOST: Are you Dennis or Dalton?
DALE: Put 35.
HOST: Okay… And KAHN are you married?
KAHN: Is this guy serious, Dale?
CAROL: Oh, for God’s sake, anybody can look at this gentleman and see he is an unemployed plumber, divorced with three kids, a pit-bull, who lives in a used RV on his mother’s rural farm outside of Tempe, Arizona.
HOST: Why an RV?
CAROL: Because his mother won’t let him set foot inside her house until he remodels the master bathroom like he promised.
HOST: I can work with that. Just give me some names.
CAROL: His ex is Lana. His three bratty boys are Cedric, Derek and for fun let’s call the last one Socrates.
HOST: Dog’s name?
CAROL: Let’s pick something to start off a nursery rhyme like MoMo, Tum Tum or Lord Stuffing Ham.
KAHN: Go with the stuffed ham and bring out those Tibetan Yak Burgers.
HOST: I don’t think Entrée Entreats has a yak line. Is that a problem?
DALE: Looks like you have a yak to go find.
KANH: And don’t forget the Sherpa sauce.
HOST LEAVES TO LOOK FOR SECURITY OR A NEW JOB.
KAHN: Hey Dale.
DALE: Yes, your Eminence.
KAHN: What’s that guy’s name?
DALE: I don’t think he said.
DALE: Would it matter if he did?