What's In a Name?
Spent the past several hours researching the onomastics of a handful of feminine names in preparation for the naming of twin sisters next week. (Believe it or not, although they were born a mere 2 minutes apart, they don’t share the same date of birth; one arrived at 11:59 p.m. on a Wednesday, the other at 12:01 a.m. on a Thursday.) Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how names come into prominence, hang around for several years, and then fade away, only to be replaced by a bunch of new (or old) names. Jane, Gary, Susan, Tom and Doris have long faded from popularity, while Emily, Jayden, Brice and Olivia are ascending. Believe it or not, I actually officiated at the naming of a newborn whose parents chose the cognomen “Brooklyn.” Undoubtedly the tide will change; I can imagine 85 years from now when the rabbi is told that the little one is being named after her late great grandmother “Brooklyn” and asks “So what name have you chosen?” the answer will be “Bracha!” Names, like most everything else, go in cycles.
The rabbis of old tell us that the most valuable thing a person can possess is his/her name. But wait: there are, they aver, different kinds of names:
The name or names we are given by our parents, over which we have no choice;
The names by which we are called, whether they be shortened versions (“Riki” for “Erica” or “Teddy” for “Theodore”), titles we’ve earned, or inexplicable nicknames, such as “Babe,” “Rocky” or “Hen.”
This third name, so the rabbis tell us, is not only the most important - and thus the most valuable of the valuable - but, generally speaking - unpronounceable. “How’s that possible?” one may well ask. Simple: the most valuable of all names is the one we earn for ourselves which, when you stop and think about it, is unpronounceable . . . more an emotion or feeling than a mere combination of words.
In the world of politics, few well-known governors, senators or presidents have gone through a career without being tagged with a nickname . . . or two or more. Consider the following:
The nation’s 8th President, Martin Van Buren had to deal with a collapsing economy, which history knows as The Panic of 1837. As a result, he was nicknamed “Martin Van Ruin.”
President U.S. (“Unconditional Surrender”) Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden. After a lengthy and contentious procedure that made Bush v. Gore look like a walk in the park, Hayes was named president. Many charged fraud . . . hence his historic nickname: “His Fraudulency.”
Most presidents have acquired nicknames such as “Tricky Dick” (Nixon), “Old Hickory” (Andrew Jackson), “The Gipper” (Ronald Reagan) and “Slick Willie” (Bill Clinton).
Father and son California governors Edmund G. Brown - Sr. and Jr. - were known, respectively as “Pat” and “Jerry.” And of course, the younger Brown was long known as “Governor Moonbeam,” thanks to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko.
Speaking of California governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still referred to as “The Governator.”
The late Florida governor and senator Lawton Chiles was known as “Walkin Lawton.” Chiles walked 1,003 miles from Pensacola to Key West to attract attention for his Senate bid.
Then there is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who has received more nicknames (in excess of 400 at last count) than anyone in American history. Among some of the more hilarious (and snarky) are:
The Boychurian Candidate
Vanilla ISIS and
The Lyin’ King
Of course, the 400+ presidential nicknames come from many, many wits, comics and critics ranging from Dan Rather and Jon Stewart to John Oliver and Jimmy Kimmel. When it comes to all the names and insults ‘45 has tagged his opponents with, it is a totally different story. Could one person possibly come up with all those insults? Or does “Boss Tweet” have a stable of writers left over from The Apprentice? Nearly every politician in the United States and around the world has, at one time or another been the target of a Trump-Tweeted nickname or insult:
North Korean dictator (and current Trump BFF) Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man”
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton: “Crooked Hillary”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Pocahontas”
Former FBI Directory James Comey: “Leakin’ James Comey!”
Journalist Carl Bernstein: “A man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool.”
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal: “Da Nang Dick; an embarrassment to our country!”
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff: “Little Adam Schitt”
Actor Robert De Niro: “A very low I.Q. individual”
3-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep: “One of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood”
Former DNI Director James Clapper: “One of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”
For pundits, partisans and late-night talk show hosts, ‘45 is the gift that keeps on giving. Or, as Jimmy Kimmel recently said, “He is our guarantee against unemployment.” Yes, there is quite a bit of humor on the surface; the man is the Platonic ideal of a buffoon; the perfect example of a man whose foot is never more than half-an-inch from his mouth. However, he is also the President of the United States; the face of the nation and its ideals to the rest of the world. I for one find him to be the biggest embarrassment in the history of the country. Even our lowest-ranked presidents - Buchanan, W.H. Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Harding - managed to carry themselves with the requisite dignity one would expect from the country’s chief executive. True, they were political failures, and while their records may have been historically embarrassing, they themselves were gentlemen. In the case of Donald Trump and his presidency, both are sui generis - e.g., in a class by itself.
I find it somewhere between utterly bewildering and totally stupefying that there are still millions of people in this country who continue to believe that this nearly 73-year old toddler is the best president we’ve ever had. Or that there are hoards who are perfectly sanguine about electing him to serve yet another 4-year term. It makes me wonder if they know what the term “autocrat” means - let alone can even spell it . . . and positively shudder to think that the Savoyard moralist Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) was correct when he wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.” I don’t know about you, but I FOR ONE DO NOT DESERVE HAVING THIS PUERILE MISCREANT LEADING THE COUNTRY I LOVE!
If it turns out in the long-run that we do, what kind of name will we have earned for ourselves and our posterity?
604 days until the next election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone