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David Kirby

BPR 48 | 2021

Sure, lots of lousy poems have been written about Adam
         naming the animals and no doubt lots of lousy
         scholarship as well, but we’re talking about lousy
         poems here and not lousy scholarship. We’ll leave
         that to the scholars, though not the lousy ones.

And actually there’s a bunch of hooey on creationist web
         sites about Adam naming the animals because
         there are so many of the little critters that, if Adam
         had started just a few minutes after Our Creator
         “breathed the breath of life into his nostrils,” as it
         says in Genesis, he’d still be doing it today, unless he
         restricted his labor to, not the individual beasts, but
         to their genera, for each genus contains dozens, even
         hundreds, of species.

So if Adam named each of the 2,500 genera only, according
         to a web site I just consulted, “it would have taken
         him approximately three hours and forty-five
         minutes to complete the task if we include a five-minute break every hour.”

Ha, ha! See? Poets and academics aren’t the only idiots in
         the world.


Here’s what we know about names, be they of animals or
         people or pianos (we’ll get to that in a minute) or,
         from the viewpoint of marketing professor Tim
         Calkins, businesses. “It’s always very tempting to
         name a company after yourself,” says Professor
         Calkins. “It is simple. It is honest. And for a lot of
         entrepreneurs, when they’re starting a new business,
         it’s the place to start.”

Also, it works: Procter & Gamble were people before they
         became a business, as were the founders of Bose,
         Duncan Hines, Doc Martens, and the Mayo Clinic,
         which is named not for the popular sandwich spread
         but for two brothers, W. W. and Will Mayo.

The Mayo brothers founded their clinic in 1892 along with
         Augustus Stinchfield, who was smart enough to go
         with the brothers’ name rather than his own.

If your name were Steinway, you could found Steinway
         & Sons and make and sell high-end pianos.

Or your name could be Steinway and you could have nothing
         to do with pianos, though “if your name is Joe
         Steinway,” says Professor Calkins, “people will think
         you know a lot about classical music and have this
         association with you that isn’t true.”


My name is Kirby, and once I was dating this Jewish woman,
         and when things started to heat up, her father
         said, “David, I like you, but I wish your name were

“David” means “beloved” in Hebrew—well, not to him.

I’m sure I have a number of the more admirable Jewish
         character traits and none of the unsavory Aryan
         ones, such as a fondness for torchlight rallies and the
         desire to annex parts of the former Czechoslovakia.

Still, I had the wrong name.

Or I was the wrong brand, if you want to put it that way.

In business, the right name can give a company a story,
         and that’s what a company needs to get its brand
         across, says David Aaker, vice chairman of Prophet, a
         branding firm.

“Facts don’t work,” says Mr. Aaker. “People counterargue.
         They’re skeptical. But if you tell them a story, all that
         goes away.”


Duke Ellington’s childhood piano teacher had the
         wonderfully Trollopian name of Marietta Clinkscales.
         True fact!

Not that she had any choice in the matter, since her mother
         and father were Mr. and Mrs. Clinkscales and thus
         relieved of the burden of coming up with a last name.

It’s hard enough to come up with a first: a neonatal nurse
         of my acquaintance tells me it’s not atypical for a
         patient to say something like, “My father is Terrell
         and my mother is Jennifer, so I want to name my
         baby Tennifer—how would I spell that?”

“Any way you like,” she tells them, “though before you fill out
         a birth certificate, you should go out to the parking
         lot, get in your car, roll the windows up, and scream
         the baby’s name as loudly as you can.”


It’s not a name, but my new favorite word is spurtle, which
         is a sort of paddle used to stir soups, stews, broths,
         and especially porridge, which, considering that the
         spurtle is Scottish in origin, makes sense, given that
         a lot more porridge is prepared and consumed in
         Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Dundee than colcannon,
         haggis, neeps and tatties, sticky toffee pudding, black
         pudding, or grouse.

To the job let the tool be suited, be that tool a kitchen utensil
         or something else entirely.

I mean, you could stir your porridge with a regular spoon or
         a pencil or a World War II bayonet, for that matter,
         but wouldn’t it taste better if you’d stirred it with a


Verdi’s little-known opera The Battle of Legnano has
         everything an opera needs: best friends who are in
         love with the same woman; a woman who loved one
         man once but is now totally faithful to the other
         man, who is her husband; a villainous third man who
         lusts after the wife; a loyal but weak serving woman
         who falls into the villain’s clutches; a threatening
         army camped just outside the city gates; and a battle
         during which one of the best friends dies.

I’m sure you’d like to know which of the friends dies, though
         I won’t say which in case you actually see The Battle
         of Legnano, which you won’t because it’s almost never
         staged due to its unpopularity.

There’s also a letter slandering the once wavering but now
         totally steadfast wife, which, like every letter in
         every opera ever written, swoops in and out of the
         narrative as it is lost, found, hidden in someone’s
         bosom, and left on some table on which it should not
         have been left.

Don’t read that letter! you want to shout. But they do, and
         more misery ensues at least until such time as some
         milquetoasty plot device lifts the mood a little and
         the curtain comes down.

The Battle of Legnano, though. Who’s going to see an opera
         called The Battle of Legnano? Okay, me. But it sounds
         like a history lesson, not an opera.

The other two thirds of the seats would have been filled on
         the evening I went if Verdi had called it Love and
         Slaughter or She Chose the Right One, Alas or The
         Poisoned Letter—anything but the name he gave it.


The ancient Greeks didn’t name their children till they were
         three because they wanted to make sure they lived.

Maybe we shouldn’t name ours till they’re 26, since
         neuroscientists are confirming what car rental
         companies have already figured out, that the brain
         doesn’t fully mature until age 25.

Till then, the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the
         brain that helps curb impulsive behavior, isn’t fully

This explains why a colleague of mine says she can teach her
         students about feminism as long as she doesn’t use
         the word “feminism.”

That would alienate a lot of the young men in her classes as
         well as the young women who think they can gain
         the respect of such men by agreeing with them,
         which they can’t.


Ever been to Prague? The area in front of the train station
         is called Sherwood Forest because it’s populated by
         drunks, homeless people, and panhandlers.

I would describe it as seedy rather than dangerous, but why
         pull the devil by his tail, as the wise people of that
         city say?

The name is lighthearted and even affectionate, in its way,
         though something tells me that any monies thieved
         from the pockets of tourists and passersby become
         the sole property of the thief and are not scheduled
         for redistribution to the populace as they might have
         been in the days of Robin Hood and his merry band.

I do wish my Jewish girlfriend’s father had thought better of me.

There’s nothing wrong with my name, even if it isn’t as grand
         as that of Good King Wenceslas,
         who illustrates my point perfectly, since he wasn’t.

Sure, he was pious, but he wasn’t effective, which is why his
         brother Boleslaus stabbed him to death.

Boleslaus was also known as Boleslaus the Cruel.

Can you imagine letting your daughter date somebody
         named Boleslaus the Cruel?

I’d have had a chance if my name had been different.

But if my name had been different, wouldn’t my life have
         been different as well?


At the May 4, 1990 memorial service for artist Keith Haring,
         actor Dennis Hopper referred to him as “my good
         friend Keith Harington.

That was bad enough by itself. But Hopper then added “and I
         mean that sincerely,” which is what you say when you
         don’t mean it sincerely at all.


Reader, be content with your name.

That said, do what you can to make it soar like a falcon or kestrel.

Let it be the Hope Diamond of names, the Everest, the Cadillac.

Live so that your name becomes a word known to the people
          of every country, like “okay” and “Coca Cola®.”

Let your name be worthy of inclusion on the audio-visual
          discs aboard the Voyager space probes that were
          launched in 1977 and are now flying through the star
          systems of our galaxy and are expected to do so
          until 2025, when their radioisotope thermoelectric
          generators can no longer provide power.

Till then, should the discs be retrieved by beings from other
          planets, they will find photos of the earth and its life
          forms, greetings from the President of the United
          States as well as the Secretary-General of the UN,
          music by Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, and Chuck
          Berry, and your name.

Let yours be the fifth face on Mount Rushmore, and below it,
          your name.

Let the four faces on Mount Rushmore be dynamited to
          pebbles and dust. Let yours alone appear there and
          the mountain be named for you.

Let your name be lisped by nuns saying their rosaries and
          priests telling their pater nosters.

Let it be on every prayer wheel, be it powered by wind, fire,
          water, or the hand of the devoted.

Let your name be such that when the sun streams through
          your window and you prepare to meet the day, flights
          of angels shall sing thee to thy single or double
          espresso, thy latte or cappuccino, thy tea of so many
          types that it would be impossible to enumerate them
          all, each more musical-sounding than the next, from
          chai and matcha to rosehip, spearmint, mulberry.

Let your name be such that each morning the devil says oh
          goddamn, she’s up.