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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Onomastic Mastication
Even making allowance for dramatic convention, it's always bothered me a little how few characters in Renaissance and Restoration drama appear to notice the eloquence of their names, especially given their near-universal obsession with wordplay. How could Sir Epicure Mammon, for example, ever hope not to be recognized as a worldly epicure the moment he announced himself? Was Sir Andrew Aguecheek fated from birth to be sickly, along with all the alliterative Agucheeks before him, or could he have shrugged off his fate by the constant application of good diet and callisthenics?

I know, I know, they aren't real people so the question is nonsensical - but given the effort that goes into making these characters appear real in many other ways I still think it a natural and non-trivial one. It's just this kind of irritant that provoked me in a former life to spend three years writing about Spenserian allegory, to the delight of all.

What about our names, though? I always felt sorry for John Craven, and for anyone whose surname happened to be Lipfriend. But some names are subtly ambiguous. For years, I thought of the name "Lance Armstrong" as an uber-macho one, rolling Sir Lancelot and Fortinbras into one. Now, I recognize it as a tacit admission of cheating - that he lanced his arm in order to become strong. Like Poe's purloined letter, Armstrong's confession was lying in plain sight, but few had eyes to see it. Perhaps characters in seventeenth-century comedies are suffering from the same problem? "Falstaff, you say? Is that Falstaff as in 'not really Welsh', or is that a dildo in your codpiece? Or does it, perchance, just happen to be your name?" The possibilities are endless.

How clever of you to see the reality behind Mr Armstrong's name. Ha!

My surname is Lovekin. (It is the only thing I insisted on hanging onto when I got divorced.) My ex-father-in-law (an amateur historian) always insisted John Lovekyn killed Wat Tyler. And that he could trace a direct line back. (No idea if this is true but it's a nice story.)

In fact, John Lovekyn preceded Wat Tyler's Rebellion by many years.

Although there is a connection:

In the later version of the name I like the juxtaposition of the syllables - the suggestion of loyalty & affection. It never fails to rouse a comment. And it's a good name for a book writer.

Nice post!

Lovekin's a great a name for a writer - or for anyone!

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there was a fence surrounding all of us.

I think that was probably just as well.

Thank you for the bakelite phones.

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This journal is always hospitable to memoirs like that.

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Good point! "Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it." (2 Kings 18.21) And so with the old man of the castle.

What a contrast with Shakespeare's own staff which, shaken not stirred, is said to make its Hitchcockian (as it were) cameo in Psalm 46.

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And no doubt they have good reason: it does smack a little of the Great Cryptogram. But to confound matters, there really was a taste for such numerological Easter Eggs (to adopt the parlance of the DVD generation) at that time. Spenser was always tucking them away, as Alastair Fowler proved many years ago - so why not Shakespeare?

Twenty-five years ago I remember a spate of Ben Jo[h]nson, the Athlete's Alchemist jokes.

Ben Johnson is an amphibrach, which I suppose must be an athlete's foot.



I had this conversation (in a limited way) back in college, in fact, it was a class on medieval life. I recollect wondering if the great Robert Grosteste got his name because his dad (or he) had big ones, or ugly ones.

Then there were all the Pigges and Piggots and Pinckneys . . .

After writing my own comment below, I'm reminded of an early 20C incident where one Tory grandee assured another that something would be taken care of by "a clever lawyer called Pigge." Turned out to be Douglas Hogg.

I don't remember that Douglas Hogg, but there was something a little porcine about his son - and the name Quintin does suggest a litter.

Edited at 2013-09-05 10:05 pm (UTC)

Collecting distinctively appropriate (or in-) names of people engaged in various professions has long been an amusing pastime.

Then there are near-misses. Why was the novel The Man Who Folded Himself written by David Gerrold and not by John Creasey?

I once read a poor novel set in Elizabethan times in which characters fall into fits of laughter on finding that another character is surnamed Hogg. Why? That's not an unusual name. And how much funnier it would have been if they'd ever heard of Sir Francis Bacon.

Irrelevant trivia: The Man Who Folded Himself was originally titled The Man Who Fucked Himself, but the publisher wouldn't go for it.

Irrelevant trivia, part two: there's also a novel by Christopher Morley called The Man Who Made Friends With Himself. It would be rather fun to have a lot of titles beginning The Man Who... shelved together -- I just tried a search at the University of Washington library and got, among much else:

The man who accused the king of killing a fish : the biography of Narin Phasit of Siam (1874-1950)
Man who also made steel
The man who ate a goose : a play in three acts
The man who ate death : an anthology of contemporary Serbian stories
The man who ate his boots : the tragic history of the search for the Northwest Passage
The man who ate the 747
The man who ate the money
The man who ate the popomack : a tragi-comedy of love in four acts
The man who beats the S & P : investing with Bill Miller
Man who became a fish
A man who became a savage a story of our own times
The man who became an eagle : a Haida legend
Man who became Sherlock Holmes
The man who believed he was king of France a true medieval tale
The man who believed he was king of France : a true medieval tale
The man who believed in the code of the West
Man who bought America
The man who bought himself : the story of Peter Still
The man who broke into Auschwitz a true story of World War II
---etc., also

The woman who ate python & other stories
The woman who battled for the boys in blue. Mother Bickerdyke; her life and labors for the relief of our soldiers. Sketches of battle scenes and incidents of the sanitary service
Woman who came at six o'clock
The woman who can't forget : the extraordinary story of living with the most remarkable memory known to science : a memoir
The woman who censored Churchill
The woman who cooked her husband
The woman who could not die
The woman who could not live with her faulty heart
Woman who danced
The woman who dared

The Man Who Fucked Himself is a bad title, not because of the word but because that's only a small part of the plot, and ought to be a bit of a surprise, whereas "Folded Himself" depicts the whole story very well.

You might be interested in knowing What They Did.

Yes, you're quite right about that being a bad title. I wonder if someone who had no reputation would even have been able to get a manuscript of that title read? I sure wouldn't have been very inclined in its favor if it had come over my transom. (I forget what the book itself was like -- am pretty sure I did read it, and that I enjoyed it at least somewhat.)

Not forgetting one of my favourites: The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.

I've often asserted that my name is best-suited for the writer of hard-boiled police procedurals, especially if you initial byline it as L. Neil Hammer.


I like it. A hard-boiled detective ought always to have a distinctive habit: perhaps yours could write haiku?

On the other hand, I'm always a little suspicious of writers who initialize their first name but not their second. It's coy at best, at worst it hints at something highly embarrassing.

I figured H. Rider Haggard went by H. because his first name was boring (it was Henry, as one might have guessed). Though why he didn't just drop it (as Rudyard Kipling dropped his initial Joseph) I do not know.