What's in a name? Quite a bit apparently
Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah Daily Press
We were at my in-laws' home near Los Angeles just after Christmas, and I had with me the latest edition of Biblical Archaeology Review. There, in one of the scholarly articles about digs in the Holy Land, I spotted something that made me hoot with laughter: The writer quoted a seriously sheep-skinned person named "Sharon A. Bong."
I showed this to my in-laws, who seemed more puzzled than amused. Maybe it’s a generational thing: I came of age in the disco years of the late ‘70s; my in-laws, considerably earlier (she’s 76; he’ll be 81 in May). Yet I figured anyone who reads the crime news regularly ought to know what a “bong” is, even without the benefit of having smoked one.
I’m no stranger to the pitfalls of odd names. Many times in the past, when I’ve introduced myself, the new acquaintances will say, “You’re kidding!” and burst out laughing. Even if they don’t explain themselves, I know they’re thinking about that geeky kid in the “Felix the Cat” cartoon, or maybe one of the characters in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” I’m often called ‘PONdexter’ or “POINTdexter.” And because of my apparent predisposition to nag, I was called “Mrs. Poinpecker in seventh grade by one of my classmates, Jim Harris. (For anyone who’s interested, Poindexter is a French name that translates into something like “right hand” or “right fist,” which is depicted in the family crest. Anyone who knows my dad would opt for the latter interpretation.)
My husband is also afflicted. More than once I’ve placed a phone call and said my last name was “Cisternino,” only to have the person on the other end confuse me with a nun.
I’ve seen moniker meldings that are real doozies, begging the question of whether the parents were — well, smoking a bong? — when they named their hapless offspring. Why don’t they think before the ink is dry on the birth certificate? I’ve had this discussion with a funeral home director and an area educator with names that could lend themselves to dangerous liaisons, and both insist they’d never do that to a kid. But others would — including a great-great-aunt of mine, who named her daughter Ada Bean.
When I was a freshman at OU, a guy named Leon Brown claimed his 6-year-old brothers, “Oops” and “Uh-oh,” were so dubbed because his parents thought they had closed the canon on their family before the twins made the scene. (He proved the point by brandishing a school yearbook, but I always suspected those were nicknames rather than birth names.)
Later, when I first came to work at the Press, I remember the names Ice Scraper and Pearl E. White cropping up in news copy. We’ve had area folks who are good-natured about their distinct designations, like Rabbit Hare, Fonda Gritts, Rusty Nail, Pete Moss, Dusty Rhodes, Brick Wall, Sunny Ray and Holly Berry. Other zingers that have elicited snickers are Kitty Box, Kitty Calico, Sandy Butts, Bee Hinds, Penny Wise, Shelly Turtle and Ray Coon — all of which we’ve printed at one time or another, and most of which we’ve been accused or making up. Despite widespread allegations, we certainly did not concoct the surname “Cries-for-Ribs,” a Ponca City family that produced athletes good enough to attract notice on our sports pages.
Marriage can cause further problems, when women stubbornly insist on using hyphens to staple married names to maiden names. Back in the 80s and early 90s, a spokeswoman for a certain agency, Sylvia Long, married a fellow with the surname “Weiner,” and she wore the hyphen like a badge. I once had an occasion to kid her about it, and she said: “Oh, that’s nothing. My husband has a cousin who’s engaged to a guy named Eric Swallow. She plans to use a hyphen, too.” I’ve also known a Sally Coke-Huffer and a Carmen Wilton-Rose.
Surnames can lend themselves to comical nicknames. My husband’s grandfather was 'Shorty’ Grant, and his stature was granted by a higher power. A fellow named Capps came in the office once and told us to call him “Papa; his cackle implied he thought it hilarious. Most of the nicknames from which we’ve recoiled in horror have appeared among the survivors in obituaries; the worst I can recall were a “Porky” in the Pigg family, a “Flip” in the Bird family, and a “Hooter” in the Smoke family.
Occasionally a name will bemuse me more than amuse. The oddest surname I’ve seen printed in the paper was (so I was told) of Middle Eastern extraction: “Nahstidudi.” I’ll leave the pronunciation to the reader’s imagination.
Fri, March 18, 2011
by Jennifer Gilliland