Oddities in the Name of Humor
In reporting a few odd names the other day, I hardly tapped the well of that rich subject.
Surnames can be bizarre enough, but the names parents give to their offspring are often cruel, comical or extraordinarily apt.
For example, John Isaacs of Long Beach says his mother had a classmate named Werdna, which is Andrew spelled backward. In the deplorable practice of giving girls feminine versions of their fathers’ names, that takes the cake.
Loyal George Truesdale, who says he has had a rewarding life being called that, sends me an obituary from a New Orleans paper noting the passing of Zenda Gloyce Smith, who left sisters Brenda Loyce, Glenda Joyce, Lenda Royce, Renda Floyce, Flenda Boyce, Quanda Doyce and Benda Noyce. Evidently, a family that believed in rhymes.
As an ESL teacher, Gerald P. Lunderville of Long Beach treasures the names of some of his students, among them Sirigunya Sugdichaipoomi, Phong Phan Phouvongluantrath, Niyada Pungauthaikan, Tarajar Inthapanti, Maria Carmen Cervantes, Catalina Valencia and Jamshid Fardshisheh.
“I almost shed a tear,” he says, “when those with classical appellations adopt American names like Ruby, Elaine or Johnny. Their exotic mystery seems to get stripped away. . . .”
Paul Somerville of Altadena notes a pukka sahib quality in the names of Ambler Moss, President Carter’s Ambassador to Panama, and Langhorne Motely, President Reagan’s.
In her 20 years as a secretary at Caltech, Elizabeth Hanson collected names that suited their owners by occupation: W. Junk, a publisher of scientific books; J. Zipper, of the Human Reproduction Unit, Geneva; and William Dement, Department of Psychiatry, Stanford University.
My colleague Jack Hawn brings up a boxing manager and promoter with the name of Melville Himmelfarb. Evidently wanting to make life simpler, he changed it to Harry Kabakoff. And, of course, Muhammad Ali was formerly Cassius Clay and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was Lew Alcindor.
Marilyn Jensen of La Habra swears that her father, as a store manager, once had to check the credit of a customer named Ophelia Self.
Guy H. Raner of Chatsworth recalls a boy in his high school gym class who was named Jim Supporter. “Just why his father didn’t name him Ralph or Steve I’ll never know.”
He also knew a yeoman in World War II named Valentine Aloysius Melvin III. “While I can imagine that name happening once, it is extremely hard to imagine it happening three times.”
Sheryl Busterno offers a list of names that she collected while working for the Social Security Administration: Among them, Rick Shaw, Dee Dee Dooda, Fairynette Kathgassner, Baby Boy Margulis, Chrystal Shanda Lear, and her brother King.
Deborah Christensen, a Times copy editor, sends a list she has collected over the last few years from The Times. It is long and marvelous: To report just a few, Hiawatha Bibby, Philomenia Bifulk, Justin Case, Gary Eugene Duda, who changed his named to G. Zippidy Duda; Sascha Foo; Mona Soo Hoo. She also lists Easy Sloman, a friend and colleague of mine whose name and life style I always envied.
John Findlater recalls a story that may be apocryphal. As he tells it, the pre-eminent curmudgeon Oscar Levant heard of a New York actress named Gisella Werberserch-Piffel. Fascinated by the name, Levant telephoned Ms. Werberserch-Piffel and identified himself as an old high school classmate.
He said, “Oscar Levant, your old school chum from P.S. 148. Remember, your desk was right in front of mine.”
Ms. Werberserch-Piffel replied that she did not know, and had never known, any Oscar Levant, and had never attended P.S. 148.
To which Levant replied: “I’m sorry. It must have been another Gisella Werberserch-Piffel.”
Oddly, a similar story was told to me years ago by Chris Clausen, my colleague on the old Daily News and later an employee of the Jet Propulsion Lab in public relations. Clausen was the most entertaining man I ever knew, though I rarely believed his stories.
Clausen claimed that he had gone to school in New York with a girl named Honeysuckle Ginsberg. Once, during World War II, he had looked her up in the phone book and called her from a railroad station. He identified himself as her old classmate. She denied ever having heard of him.
“Sorry,” he said, “it must have been some other Honeysuckle Ginsberg.”
As I say, I never believed Clausen; but it didn’t seem to matter.