Monday, June 04, 2007

What's In a Name?

I love scientific research. The very phrase conjurs up visions of white-smocked technicians working tirelessly to find a cure for cancer or crack the mystery of time travel.

But not all research is so noble. For example, a gentleman named Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, was once honored for his studies of Murphy's Law ("Whatever Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong") and especially for demonstrating that toast often falls on the buttered side.

Then there's Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Universit Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, for their insights into why, when dry spaghetti is bent, it often breaks into more than two pieces.

Joining this distinguished company are researchers at Miami University who say they know why you can remember some peoples' names but not others. They can show that certain names are associated with facial features.

To underscore their point, the researchers say that when people hear the name "Bob," they have in mind a larger, rounder face tham when the hear the name "Tim" or "Andy."

This immediately caught by attention since most people know me by Bob. And it just so happens I have a face that might be charitably described as round.

The question is, do I have a round face because my name is Bob, or is it just a coincidence?
Researchers don't have the answer to that one but suggest that because "Bob" is a round sounding name, it croses over into visual representation.

Whatever. My experience with lugging around the name Bob for more than a half-century is that it's not a name folks take particularly seriously.

Bob is the Little League coach. Bob is the guy who works at the hardware store. Bob is the car salesman. Bob is the eternal guy next door.

Bob is never a distinguished man of letters. No one of noble birth was ever a Bob. There is no King Bob as far as I know (although there was a King Robert the Bruce of Scotland in the 14th Century). There has never been a president named Bob.

But we Bobs have had our moments.

We have graced the movie and TV screen, featuring talents as diverse as Robert DeNiro and Bob Denver, Robert Shaw and Robert Redford.

In baseball, we have produced Roberto Clemente and Bob Feller.

We've sparkled as musicians: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bobby Darin.

We have graced literature with Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson.

We have produced statesmen such as Bobby Kenneday, Bob Dole and Bob Taft.

Bob Hope is ours. So is Robert E. Lee.

Besides, there are a lot worse names that can get attached to people.

Take the case of Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, for example, an unfortunate Swedish child whose parents chose to protest a naming law which stated that "first names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it..."

Then there is Anna Bertha Cecilia Diana Emily Fanny Gertrude Hypatia Inez Jane Kate Louise Maud Nora Ophelia Prudence Quince Rebecca Sarah Teresa Ulysis Venus Winifred Xenophon Yetty Zeno Pepper, a British woman whose names corresponded with the first letters of the alphabet. In fact, her friends called her "Alphabet."

Jaime Lachica Sin was a Philippine clergyman, known as Cardinal Sin because of his status within the Catholic church.

Others of note revealed in a quick trip through the Internet:

Depressed Cupboard Cheesecake, the child of a couple in Kent, England.

Espn (pronounced Espin) is the name of two boys from Michigan and Texas, named for the popular cable sports channel ESPN.

Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, a man with one of the longest names ever recorded.

Loser Lane, a New York Police Department sergeant.

Shanda Lear, daughter of Bill Lear, founder of Lear Jet Corporation Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette, daughter of magician Penn Jillette.

Optimus Prime, a member of the United States National Guard.

Ima Hogg, daughter of Governor of Texas James Stephen Hogg. Urban legend contends that she had a sister named Ura Hogg, but this apparently is false.

The world of sport has produced a rich trove of names:

Running back I.M. Hipp is often mentioned as a favorite.

NFL wide receivers Fair Hooker and Golden Richards were stars on their teams.

Sport combined with literature to give us football players D'Artagnan Martin and Hiyawatha Francisco.

Basketball gave us God Shammgod and World B. Free

Baseball produced Wonderful Terrific Monds III, player in the Atlanta Braves farm system in the early 1990s.

Would my life be different if my name was Optimus? Or Golden? Probably not. Maybe Bob isn't such a bad name for a round-faced guy after all.

No comments: