Friday, December 22, 2006


We humans are incredibly creative. Given that so much of our behavior is genetically derived (as Scott Adams says, we are just "moist robots") and that we are basically bipedal bags of wet carbon, I have to marvel at our ingenuity compared to other bipedal bags of wet carbon, like chimpanzees. Take, for instance, names.

I like to mentally rate names on an "Interesting Name Scale" from 0 to 10. A name like Bob Smith rates a big fat zero. There is absolutely nothing interesting to me about a name like Bob Smith. It blends in and gets ignored, at least here in America. I'd say most of us have a name around 4 on the scale. If you do "the hyphen thing" when you get married, or name your children, that will likely move your rating up a number or two. At one point I had a coworker whose last name was Karen Prettyontop. Now that's an original last name. She was Native American, and, I assume, it was a family name given to her at birth. I was sad when she got married and her last name changed to Martin. Her name fell on my rating scale from about an 8 to about a 4. She didn't seem to mind the name change. When I recently told another friend about the name (they didn't know each other), she remarked, "Prettyontop sounds like a stripper name." I never thought of it that way, so maybe I can understand how Karen didn't mind the change.

Names that get top scores on my Interesting Name Scale are the ones that people make up for themselves and really use. In 1994, a 17-year old named Peter Eastman, Jr. (ranks about a 3 or 4) changed his name to the title of his favorite book. His full legal name is now Trout Fishing In America. Wow. Give that boy a 10. He goes by "Trout". I heard another one the other day that blew my mind. A friend of mine has a friend whose name was Jerry Williams. Pretty boring. Ranks maybe a 2 or 3. He changed his name to "Jerry!". No, I didn't just mess up my punctuation. That's Jerry with an exclamation mark and no last name. Unfortunately he wasn't able to make it legal, as punctuation isn't allowed in official names, but that's how he signs his name. Give him a 10!

But are we really more creative in names than chimps? I wonder if chimps have names for each other that we just aren't aware of. Maybe a chimp was given the name of "Ooh Ohh Ahh" by his mom, but has now changed his name to "Ooh!" How would we ever know?

What names have you heard of that would rate high on the scale?


Maggie said...

You really got me on this one. I could tell you that my children I named Brik, Geremy (soft G) and Wynter. But I think I'm biased about those names. I've always loved really different names - have one myself. But I cannot for the life of me think of some odd name of anyone I've ever known. How lame is that?

Angry Lab Rat said...

Well, Maggie, I'd say those are pretty unique. I'd give your kids an 7, 6, and 7, respectively!

BioBoy said...

I've always been interested in names, in the sense of wondering if people grow into or out of their name. If your name is John Smith, do you perceive yourself as boring? Did Karen Prettyontop think of herself as special and pretty?

I think people can make their own destiny, and decide to live up to or beyond their names, however humdrum and mundane they might seem. An unusual name does stick out in a crowd, but unfortunately, most of us are firmly stuck in the middle of the bell curve on personality, regardsless of the Wow! factor within our name.

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine has the last name Kilgore, which has struck me as sounding rather violent, but he's such a sweet guy the name doesn't really seem to fit. Another good friend of mine has the last name Scattergood. I used to joke that it should really be Distributewell. The funny thing about my last name is that people are always trying to stick an "h" or "r" in at random places when neither letter appears there. (Due to my mom's rather squiggly signature, I actually got into an argument with my first grade teacher about how to spell my name!) I teach an English class at a community college, and it's always struck me as funny when students misspell my name. The spelling of many names was botched when their owners immigrated into the US.

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