Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"What's In A Name?"

My wife thinks this idea is ridiculous. I’m not so sure. I’ll leave it to you. You can side with a psychologist with decades of training and experience in Freudian psychoanalysis, or you can side with a sitcom writer who thinks he might just be on to something. It’s your call entirely.

The issue is this:

Do you make your name? (Her, rather traditional, belief.) Or does your name make you? (My bold one.)

Don’t decide yet. Wait for the evidence.

As I mentioned in my first post, I take extension classes at UCLA. This quarter, it’s Philosophy – Free Will and Determinism. I love philosophy. I don’t understand every word. They’ll say stuff like:

“If ‘P’, then ‘Q’; if ‘Q’, then ‘R’; if ‘R, then ‘S’; but if ‘S, then ‘not P.’ Therefore God exists.”

I can’t always follow what they’re doing, but I take great pleasure watching them do it.

Determinism says whatever you did, you could not have done anything else. Your every thought and move is independent of your will, having been determined – by God, by your genes, by your neurological wiring, by your environment, by your unconscious (Hi, Honey). Nothing is under your control. You think you’re free, but you’re not.

I happen to like this concept, having a congenital aversion to blame. Determinism fits right in with nothing being my fault; I’m off the hook for everything. I find this an enormous relief. It means no credit for the good stuff, but for me, that’s a small price to pay for never getting yelled at.

My philosophy class has inspired to me search for other determining factors for making me who I am. What else I can blame for the way I turned out?

How about my name?


I’ve never particularly liked my name.


To me, it sounds like an unpleasant gurgle in your throat.


You hear the gurgle? Say it a few times.

Earl. Earl. Urrrrl.

You feeling that little bubble?

You may be wondering, how did a Baby Boomer from Canada ever get the name Earl?

First of all, Jewish newborns are traditionally named after family relatives who have passed away. It’s a method of keeping that person’s name, and I guess their memory, alive. My mother once told me that I was named after her grandmother…

Esther Rivka.

You can’t name a boy Esther. They’ll be in therapy for the rest of their lives. Being sensitive, but not wanting to lose the name, my mother transnamefied Esther Rivka into

Earl Raymond.

It makes sense from an alphabetical standpoint. And “E” girl’s name became an “E” boy’s name. But there’s more than one “E” boy-name. I could have been Eddie. I could have been Ely. I could have been Elvis?

Why did it have to be Urrrrl?

Here’s why.

It appears that during the Baby Boomer period, Jewish parents felt their children would have a better chance blending in if they had English-sounding names. Not Canadian-sounding names; there weren’t any, except, maybe, Doug. There were no Jewish Dougs. Doug was the guy who chased you home from school.

My brother’s name is Hart. I’m Earl. My parents’ friends’ children were Myles and Roweesa and Noel and Pamela. (I have a wonderful sister-in-law named Pamela. It’s not her fault.) There were no Maxes. No Sams. No Sadies. No Pearls. Only names the English might have bestowed upon their children in 1902. Oscar Wilde names.

(The following generation, all the old names came back. The Ellis Island names. Sadie and Gertie and Rose. Rivka, not so much. But there’s still time.)

Being Earl in Canada, I had no idea what was going on with my name in the United States. It wasn’t good. In the South, and wherever they have trailer parks, Earl is a commonly identified with a stupid person.

“My Name Is Earl.”

Moving to another country, my name lost about forty I.Q. points. Like I didn’t have enough trouble, sounding like a throat gurgle.

What’s in a name? I, Earl, say, everything. Think about your name. Do you like it? Your name is the first thing people learn about you. How well does it represent who you really are? And if it’s not doing you any favors, how hard is it to overcome?

Of course, names cut both way. Some automatically relegate you to the sidelines, at best, as traveling secretaries.

“Hey, Earl, you got the bus tickets?”

Other names make you a star. Joe Montana. Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle – come on! – could Mickey Mantle possibly fail? You don’t even have to practice. Your name flies you straight into the Hall of Fame!

You’re saying, “Come on, Earl. If those guys weren’t great, their names wouldn’t have made any difference. Tell that to Nobby Wirkowsky. Who’s Nobby Wirkowsky? My point exactly.

Albert Einstein – smart or stupid? Abraham Lincoln – president or cattle rustler? Marilyn Monroe – bombshell or bagger at a supermarket? Einstein, Lincoln, Monroe, all great, and I would argue, determining, names. I know Marilyn Monroe wasn’t her real name, but that’s what I’m talking about. She wasn’t making it as Norma Jean whatshername. Same body parts, and it wasn’t happening. She needed a name that fit. Once she got it, “hand prints” at the Chinese Theater.

I believe names play an enormous role in determining your fate. But don’t blame me if I’m wrong. I was determined to believe that.


Corinne said...


As a fellow Canadian I wasn't completely following the downside to 'Earl' until you mentioned moving south... and then it made sense. Thus, logically, should you ever have the desire to move back to Canada, you'd gain 40 IQ points.

And does that mean perceived IQ changes at the border when you travel for holidays?

As a teacher, I'm totally on your side. There are definite personality traits that go with some names.

Veggie Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veggie Gal said...

Good news: Earl Warren.

Not quite so good news: Earl Scheib.

Anonymous said...

I Agree..

When I meet a Paula (or enter random name, but preferably a girl) I always look for the personality traits that all other Paula's had.

And it usually fits!

My name is Magiel, from my grandfather. But me Mom wanted it a tad different, mostly this name is written Machiel, wich sounds excactly thesame.

So I have explained that to the world since I was about 5, and still believe that made me less comformist (to start with).

It al comes from Micheal, very nice, as He was a demonslayer.

Amsterdam, Holland

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaime J. Weinman said...

Les: What did you say your name was?
Steel: Steel.
Les: That's a nice name.
Steel: Thanks. I like to think that a person's name says a lot about the type of person he is. What was your name again?
Les (after a beat): Les.
-- WKRP in Cincinnati, "Jennifer Falls in Love"

Max Clarke said...

Good topic.

For starters, Earl. The Internet address for a website, the URL, is pronounced Earl, so you've got that going for you.

Next, as Anonymous mentioned, we compare people with a name to people with that same name. As Frasier Cranium said to somebody at Cheers once, "At least I'm not a Doug,' and he said it as if nobody named Doug could ever become a normal human being.

Third, in the metaphysics of India and Tibet, for example, the name of something is a reflection of its energy qualities. If you can pronounce accurately the mystical name of something, you embody it. That's one reason Sanskrit has been considered important, its sounds are considered the closest human speech can approach the original names of the energies that make us what we are.

At any rate, when I used to see the name Earl Pomerantz on the credits for Cheers, it looked like a good name for a writer.

HART said...

Man carries out nature's plan in the mistaken belief that it is his own.

Never hire as a financial adviser anyone called Vinnie.

A Rose by any other name could be in the hall of fame.

HP Blogger

HART said...

Any philosopher worth his salt should be able to prove he doesn't exist.

HP Blogger

Anonymous said...

Earl, you should check out http://www.therightbabyname.com they seem to think the same thing you do--that the name makes the person... well maybe not exactly but they make the point that perceptions of names influence people's lives... interesting concept...

casino games using PayPal said...

Bravo, the ideal answer.