I have been fascinated by names long before Shirley Ellis recorded The Name Game in 1964 and created a nonsensical rhyming sensation. America joined Ms. Ellis and played the name game, turning normal names into silly concoctions. But none were as imaginative as those created in Hollywood.
As a child, I had thought the names of movie stars Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Tuesday Weld, and even John Wayne were real. Then I learned they were the product of studios and press agents. I was deeply disappointed. My childhood innocence was shattered. But I bounced back when I became familiar with actor Rip Torn. I embraced what I thought was the best name, natural or manufactured, ever. Until I met my high school girlfriend, Candy Kane.
Candy loved her name. So did our school’s choir director. He purposely, then, seated her by two other contraltos so, while taking attendance, he could say with evil glee, “Candy Kane, Sue Wood, but Bunny Will.” Candy and I broke up; I grew tired of her constant red-and-white striped clothing and the scent of Eau de Peppermint swirling around us wherever we went. (OK. There were other reasons, like sexual orientation. I won’t, however, mention that here as I never discuss my being gay in public.) My relationship with Candy ended, but my attraction to unusual names survived.
Long after high school and college, while watching the evening news one Christmas Season, I was introduced to Mary Chris Maas. I let out a loud ho-ho-ho. What a perfect combining of a first, middle, and family name, I thought. Years later, while working in customer service, I dealt with a client with the imaginative moniker Crystal Shanda Lear. Although I served this customer for only a few minutes, I could tell she was very bright. More recently, during my final year working in a high school, I came across a young man named Heaven Angel. That would have been creative enough an appellation, but when I found out his middle name was Lee, I was tempted to stand and applaud his parents for their wordsmithing. How disappointed they must have been, however, when they realized their disruptive, under-achieving son was actually angelic-challenged.
From the moment I learned female impersonators existed, I became more interested in their frequently humorous names than their personae or performances. The list is endless but a few of my favorites are Dora Jarr, Amanda Reckonwith, Sofonda Peters, LaTrina Bidet, Out-TV’s Wilma Fingerdoo, and the plus-size duo Dietta Pepsi and Tulita Pepsi. A current celebrated drag performer is named Courtney Act. I did not catch the pun when I first heard the name. I guess I was caught in the act of failing to listen closely.
Male impersonation, or drag kings, is a relatively new form of entertainment among women, usually lesbians. The level of creativity in character naming, however, is equal to that of their female (or do I mean male?) counterparts. Ladies and gentlemen, on our stage tonight, Adam Sapple, Jim Klass, Joe King, Bob Forapples, and the uber-masculine Manny Nuff. Oh, I’m certain there are countless more. The list is probably longer than any of these characters’… um, er…feet.
Individuals in the world of music have provided us with many unusual names, names that conjured up distinct images. Antoine “Fats” Domino and Chubby Checker are but two. Bono, Sting, and guitarists The Edge and Slash are more current. Rap artists also have kept the tradition of creative “show biz” names alive in recent years. But no singer, I feel, was more adamant about the name he chose and his persona than Stuart Goddard. He performed in the late Twentieth Century as Adam Ant.
Writers have been known to devise unique character names. But none did it better than Charles Dickens. We all know about Ebenezer Scrooge. Many of us are familiar with Martin Chuzzlewit. These names, however, are merely the tip of the Dickens oddly-named character iceberg. Surnames like Tetterby, Flintwich, Peerybingle, Sweedlepipe, Peckinsniff, Pegotty, Chickenstalker, and Deadlock abound in Dickens’ works.
Filmdom’s one-and-only Groucho Marx, an interesting name in itself, was known to bestow upon his characters the most preposterous appellations. He gave us Prof. Quincy Wagstaff, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, Wolf Flywheel, Ronald Kornblow, J. Cheever Loophole, and Rufus T. Firefly.
Taking the lead from Groucho, Caryn Johnson apparently thought her name too common, too simple to stand out in the competitive World of Entertainment, so she became Whoopie Goldberg. The first time we saw her, however, we knew she was not Jewish as her last name implies. Her first name, Whoopie, is clearly a Christian name. In the Bible, Whoopie was, I believe, the jokester wife of Methuselah’s little-known tailor, Pynn Kush-Un.
As for authentic Jewish names, and I swear this is true, several college friends told me their hometown synagogue had a prominent member named Buster Hyman. Oy, vey!
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a name?” Well, there can be creativity, imagination, humor, sometimes a bit of ribaldry, and often vivid imagery. They can also be very Shirley Shirley bo burley, bonana fanna fo furley, fee fi mo murley. . . Shirley.