Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

WHAT’S SO FUNNY: Here’s what’s in a name

This year’s presidential election presents possibly the greatest contrast between candidates we’ve ever had — a basic contrast that has polarized America since its birth.

It’s the standard name versus the unusual name.

John McCain and Barack Obama grew up differently. One’s name sounded normal to American ears. The other’s sounded odd.

Kids find out early if their peers consider them different. The kid with the unusual name finds out extra early.


Such a name is often an instant source of ridicule, an obstacle to overcome. If your name is odd enough it takes a certain minimum level of character just to survive.

I know what I’m talking about here. I myself will never approach the heights of the Democratic nominee, but I can empathize with him as a fellow oddly named fellow.

In school I was “Sherweird” and “Creepy Kiraly.” Years later, when Patti Jo and I started going together and she told her friends her new boyfriend was named Sherwood, they told her to get through this phase in a hurry.

John McCain has been acceptable from the day he was christened. You can’t have a more solid, standard, straight-shooter name than John McCain.


The sole disadvantage of a normal name is that you get mistaken for people with the same or similar names, but the only guy John McCain gets confused with is John McClane, the hero of the “Die Hard” movies. How bad is that?

Barack Obama dealt with Otherness during roll call for his entire childhood. As he grew up his name became more of an asset because it helped him stand out. But he still fights the perception that he’s not a regular guy. How could he be a regular guy with that name?

Of course, we just went through eight years with a regular guy. May not be the way to go.

As we head toward November, the Republicans say it would be foolish to vote for a candidate as inexperienced as Barack Obama. The Democrats, on the other hand, say that all those who voted twice for George W. Bush should disqualify themselves from further participation in American politics.

As someone who’s gone through a lot of years with an unusual name, I would add this:

I can’t swear Barack Obama has enough experience to be a great president. But he’s had one experience John McCain never had: going through childhood named Barack Obama.

SHERWOOD KIRALY is a Laguna Beach resident. He has written four novels, three of which were critically acclaimed.