Naming Names

I’ve worn glasses since I was a first-grader, so you think I’d know everything there is to know about them—but I don’t. In fact, I don’t even know the proper names of different parts of my glasses.

This became relevant for the first time recently when the little plastic parts of my glasses that hold them against each side of your nose somehow broke off. That’s never happened before, and it’s hard to see how it happened now. It’s not like the act of donning and doffing your glasses applies tremendous torque to the nose bone area that would cause this kind of extraordinary glasses injury. But somehow those pieces sheared off, and I need to get the glasses fixed. And when I call my optometrist to schedule a repair visit, I’d prefer to name names rather than vaguely talking about “those little plastic parts that brace the glasses against both sides of your nose.”

For the record, they are apparently called “nose pads,” and the metal pieces that hold them are called “pad arms.” And here’s something weird- the parts of your glasses that go back over your ears are called “temples,” and the parts that rest on your ears are called “temple tips.”

So now I can tell the eye doctor I’ve had a nose pad failure, and sound like I’ve done my homework. But I wonder: how many other actual names of common household object are unknown to me? Like, what is the proper name for the part of a clothes hangar that loops over the bar in your closet?

House Names

Many of the houses in Stonington have formal names, like “Morning Mist,” designated by signs on the house itself. That’s pretty unusual in my experience; I don’t remember seeing houses being given names in Columbus, for example. I’m not sure exactly why this house-naming tendency is so, but not surprisingly I have a theory. Many of the residents of Stonington owns boats, and the boats are always named. If you’re going to name one object or possession, why not name another? I wouldn’t be surprised if they named their cars, too.

My two favorite names are “Yonder,” shown by the sign above the barn doors above, and “The Snow Goose,” on the trim house below. “Yonder” is a great, now archaic word that dates from the Middle Ages. It indicates something in the distance that is within sight or capable of being identified by a gesture. As a house name, it has a certain mystical quality. And “The Snow Goose” is similarly evocative. It conjures up clear mental images, and it also makes you wonder what caused a prior owner to settle on that name.

A New Approach To Hurricane Names

The hurricane that struck Houston this week has been uniquely, historically devastating.  It has made landfall twice, dumped enormous amounts of rain in Texas and western Louisiana, produced death and destruction, caused massive flooding and millions of dollars in property damage, wreaked havoc with infrastructure, and thrown hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of their homes.  It will take Houston months, if not years, to fully recover from its effects.

All of this from a storm called . . . Harvey?

harveyDon’t get me wrong, Harvey is a perfectly good name — if you’re an 8 1/2 foot tall invisible rabbit who befriends Jimmy Stewart.  It’s a quaint, somewhat old-fashioned name that is well-suited to a meek, nebbishy guy who wears wire-rimmed glasses and a bow tie.  But as a name for an ultra-powerful, cataclysmic storm, it leaves a lot to be desired.  Isn’t the name Hurricane Harvey just a little bit . . . jarring?  You’re reading an article about the catastrophe and stop in your tracks and think:  “Really?  Hurricane Harvey?”

We need to come up with a new approach to naming hurricanes that properly recognizes their devastating impact and uses names that appropriately capture their power.  We need to make sure that next year we’re not reading about Hurricane Tiffany, or Hurricane Jerry, or Hurricane Tim.  All fine names, to be sure, but nevertheless totally discordant when applied to hurricanes.

I suggest that we ditch the use of current names for hurricanes and opt for a new hurricane naming convention that uses the names of ancient gods from cultures across the world.  The ancient gods typically combined the attributes of tremendous power, unpredictability, cruelty, and whimsical, unaccountable meddling in human affairs — all characteristics that also can be applied to colossal hurricanes.

The storm that struck Houston should have been called something like Hurricane Thor, or Hurricane Hephaestus, or Hurricane Hoth.  Not Hurricane Harvey.

What’s In A Name?

Robert is, candidly, a somewhat clumsy name.  It doesn’t exactly flow trippingly off the tongue.  Starting with the rolling “r,” then flipping to the explosive “b,” then ending with that hard “t” — it’s just filled with too many discordant sounds.

“Robert” didn’t even sound good when actors on last season’s Game of Thrones talked to or about King Robert Baratheon.  You know your name isn’t a thing of beauty if, even when it is spoken by actors with British accents, it still sounds like a word for a failed engine part.

Fortunately, no one but the IRS and my bank refer to me as “Robert.”  But what nickname to choose?  For the first 12 years of my life, everyone called me Bobby.  I liked Bobby, but as I hit the teenage years I realized almost no one used the diminutive form of nickname anymore.  Now the only adult males I know who go by “Bobby” hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line, boast about SEC football dominance, comfortably wear white loafers without socks, and drink bourbon in the evenings.  The name fits them, but not me.

“Rob” never really worked, and “Robby” even less so.  It’s not just because “Rob” is a word for an act of theft, either.  Mostly, “Rob” seems prissy and highfalutin, a sort of halfway attempt to hang on to the old English roots of Robert.

That leaves Bob.  I settled on Bob more than 40 years ago, and I still like it.  It’s rarely mispronounced and almost never misspelled.  It’s short and solid and simple.  I think it suits me.  After all, as we swim through the sea of life, everybody needs to bob now and then.

Robert, Embarrassingly Behind Nevaeh And Alfie

Recently I happened to see a list of the most popular baby names in Ohio, and saw that Robert, once again, didn’t make the list.  Oh, you’ll still see Robert on the statewide representation of popular names on the linked webpage  — its located down there near Marietta on the map, along with Audrey and Kyle — but the the article points out that the truly popular choices are names like Nevaeh, Jayden, and Madison.

Apparently the criteria for name selection these days include not only names that have no discernible gender identification, but also names that are unpronounceable.  If you are a kid named Nevaeh — regardless of your gender — every teacher who calls the roll from kindergarten to 12th grade is going to butcher the pronunciation and, deep down, bear tremendous resentment that you didn’t have a familiar, pronounceable name like Bob.  (For record, I’ve learned that Nevaeh, which is “heaven” spelled backward, is a feminine name that is pronounced either ne-VAY-eh or ne-VAY.  I suspect the latter is probably the French pronunciation).

It turns out that Bob hasn’t been popular for decades.  In fact, every decade of my life has seen the name Robert decline in popularity, and recently the decline has been precipitous.   I flatter myself that there is no causal relationship between my role in the world and the plummeting popularity of my name.  But when I see that the top name list of 2009 has Alfie — Alfie! — coming in at number 4 and Robert nowhere to be found, I begin to wonder.  Seriously, Alfie?  It’s embarrassing!