CRACKANORY: Register of Unfortunate Names

I was chatting with a lively group of teachers in The Fox one night, when the conversation turned to funny or unusually named pupils that they had encountered.

“There was a little Indian girl in my class last year whose surname was Ria,” I was told by one woman. “Her first name was Gorna. Let that sink in.”

There was a collective gasp, then laughter.

“I bet she was quite the catch,” I joked.

“Then there was Princess Leia,” she continued. “You couldn’t just call her Princess or Leia, it had to be ‘Princess Leia’ otherwise she got mad.”

“I knew a Vietnamese guy called Tu Long Dong,” someone else chipped in.

That was a tough name to live up to, we all agreed.

“The best… or should that be worst…,” continued the first woman, embracing the topic, “was a girl whose name was spelt ‘LA – A’. How would you pronounce that?”

I tried out a variety of possibilities, “La ah? Lar? Laaaaaaaaa? (and in desperation) Ella?”

“Nope,” I was told. “It’s Ladasha.”

“You are making that up!”

For a while comedy names became my favourite subject of conversation in the gay bars of Birmingham. Inevitably people contributed a name of a work colleague, family member or acquaintance and so the register of unfortunate names expanded.

Many names are simply lost in translation, such as Alecky Dick, Eezi Goah, Randy Cuntapay, Apishagga, Fajghana (say it out loud) and the childishly titter worthy Wee Wee.

There was the stirring Chinese name of Ting Lee Wang and the painful sounding Chew Kok; the promising Thai tag of Wae Phat Coc; the unintentionally geeky Taiwanese moniker of Wanky Fan; a hot Italian barman blemished by the name Farthi; the poor Indonesian girl branded Windi; and a Polish lad, whom apparently took a friends virginity, with the spectacular name of Fudge Fadge McGadge. It is not known whether he took her up the fudge or her fadge, but I don’t suppose it really matters.

There were other names for which you can only blame the parents, such as Dwayne Pipe, Paige Turner, Shane Payne, Rob Banks, Hope Dyde (which would make you question your parent’s love), Wayne Kerr and Wayne King (say them fast), Dick Packer, Everard Dick and his sister Ophelia, plus the inevitable Richards Head and Hard.

I learned of a car dealership in Bath owned by Dick Lovett; a chain of estate agents in Shropshire run by Nicholas Tart; a friend’s American co-worker called Randy Ho; a consultant at Good Hope Hospital called Dr Donald Duck (known as Don, but somehow that only makes it sound even more ridiculous).

I was told about infant twins Ronnie and Reggie; Georgio and Armarni; and one clueless mother who called her daughters Chardonnay and Chlamydia. Apparently, she thought that Chlamydia sounded particularly nice. For Christ sake don’t introduce her to little Gorna Ria. Double trouble.

Of course, some people acquire unfortunate names through marriage. Carol Carole got off relatively lightly, but the same can’t be said for poor Gaye Hooker, Fanny Fuller, Arnett Curtain, Rhoda Pig, Ishabel Hughes (known as Ish) or the topical Pam Demic! Then there is the outstandingly terrible Fanny Wank. As though Wank isn’t already an impossible name to carry off, but then to team it with Fanny! Although I suppose no choice of first name is going to detract from the surname Wank, a similar problem presumably faced by the parents of Wally Bastard.

In contrast, I did learn of women who were grateful to get married and lose their maiden names, like Joy Organ and Rachel Blewitt (I bet Rachel’s brother Barry is desperate to ditch the surname too). My heart goes out to poor Peggy Pigg, who dreamed of losing that surname on her wedding day, only to marry a man called Hogg.

There are names that are as lovely as they are unusual and sound like they belong in children’s literature, like my friend’s gran Rose Bush and his mother’s cousin June Moon. I love the names Misty Waters, Penny Lane, Lilly Green, Minnie Onions, Summer Love, Rose Light, Friday Knight, Ida Downs, Pearl Button, Humphry Lordwin, Lordwin Nelson and the nautical Marina Portsmouth.

Someone I know very well, grew up in small town America, where there lived the eccentric Drupp family. Dotty and Earl Drupp ha a son called Leo. I thought that the whole clan sounded like something from a Roald Dahl novel, until he told me that he had inadvertently walked in on teenage Leo suckling from his mother’s breast (You weren’t expecting that dark twist were you?!). More The League of Gentlemen than George’s Marvellous Medicine. Predictably, my friend’s momma decided that she didn’t want him playing with that Drupp boy no more after that awkward encounter.

Staying with the ‘children’s book’ theme, I was recently told the spectacular name of Fanny Missfeldt-Ringius, whom I think sounds like she should be the Sports & Physical Education Mistress at Hogwarts.

At university, I knew of a student called Emma Dale. I used to take great delight in joking or should that be ‘Joe King’ (real name told to me in Boltz) that her best friend was called Brooke Side. Corinne Ashian-Street, anyone?

For a while I directed a girl at a Birmingham youth theatre called Pocahontas. I remember one occasion where she was being particularly disruptive and in a pith of  frustration, I chastised her from across the rehearsal studio, but got all in dither with me Disney and mistakenly hollered, “Pinocchio, will you be quiet?!” Well, there was my fragile authority gone.

Pocahontas had an older sister called Notzereena, which led to endless confusion every time someone asked her name.

She would repeatedly tell them, “My name is Notzereena.”

They would respond, “Well, what is it then?”

People just thought she was being mysterious and allusive.

My friend Martin told me about a customer that he regularly dealt with at his first job as an insurance broker in Bristol. The customer was a pleasant old ex-army type called Colonel Warmbath. One day the Colonel came into the branch to add his son to the car insurance. The son’s name was Luke.

Another acquaintance shared a tale from her father’s time on the police force, when it was proposed that all officers should have their name clearly displayed on their uniform in the style of first initial and surname, all in capitals. Everyone was fine with this initiative, except for PC Paul Enis, who had to perform his duty with ‘P.ENIS’ emblazoned on his lapel.

I was told about how, as a younger man, another friend had spent time in Zimbabwe teaching English. It was the tradition in the region he worked for mothers to name their new-borns after something that made a strong impression on them straight after birth. He taught the sublime Luscious Breakfast and a lad called BBC, which will give him a possibly appropriate Grindr handle when he is older.

The highest profile comedy name that I have encountered belongs the most senior ranking police officer in the United Kingdom, Commissioner Cressida Dick, it doesn’t get any better by including Dame Dick’s middle name Rose, because Cressida Rose Dick just sounds like a brag about what she got up to on Friday night. Ironically, it is safe to assume that the Commissioner has never caressed or risen a dick in her life, she is obviously far more of a Fanny Chmelar.

This catalogue of calamitous christening has put me in mind of the acclaimed 2017 gay romantic movie Call Me By Your Name… because you wouldn’t want to be called by any of these.

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