Pitfalls in the naming game | Sunday Observer

Pitfalls in the naming game

When a baby is born, most parents consult astrologers to name it. Some well-known astrologers charge Rs 5,000 and give a list of names to choose from. It appears that everybody wants to give an unusual and memorable name to their offspring. In some countries parents name their babies after leading personalities. Even in Sri Lanka babies have been named after celebrated authors.

In my rural school deep in the South, there were students named after Martin Wickramasinghe and Munidasa Cumaratunga. The children, however, were not as bright as those authors. But teachers used to ask Martin Wickramasinghe : “What’s the latest novel you’re writing?” They asked Munidasa Cumaratunga why he did not write novels. The whole class roared with laughter on such occasions. Some parents eventually got the message and refrained from naming their children after well-known personalities.

The situation is the same or even worse in certain developed countries such as the United States of America. There a child was named William Shakespeare. This led him to a life of tempest, despair and embarrassment. Wherever he went he became a target of caustic gibes simply because of his name. Everyone who met him never forgot to make a sally in a humorous way. Gradually, he got used to the barrage of questions people asked. However, he deplored the lack of originality in their questions. For nearly 30 years he managed to tolerate his tormentors who came up with trite wisecracks.


When he attended parties and other social gatherings somebody would introduce him to the audience saying, “Now let me introduce my friend William Shakespeare.” All hell broke loose on such embarrassing situations. He did not know where to hide his face. Everybody would look at him quizzically. Then somebody would ask: “Are you related to the great Bard?” He did not know what to say, and would simply smile and try not to sound silly in his answers.

One day, he was among a group of academics. When he was introduced as William Shakespeare, somebody patronizingly asked the same old question differently worded: “Well, you have an illustrious name. Are you related to the great William Shakespeare?” He bowed his head and simply said that was his name but he had no kinship to William Shakespeare.

When he attended college, his peers and even teachers did not spare him. He had a feeling that he was rather backward in certain subjects. He expected some kind of sympathy at least from his teachers. One day he got the shock of his life when a teacher blurted out, “Anyone with a name like that should be ashamed of the work they turn in.”

Illustrious name

Soon he realized that it is not advisable to have an illustrious name. At times he even contemplated committing suicide to get away from the daily bombardment of banalities. However, being a sensible young man he hesitated taking such a hasty step. Meanwhile, a series of incidents caused him the deepest embarrassment.

After leaving college, he got a job as a railroad telegraph operator at Freeville, NY. Things went smoothly for some time until one day, when he heard a violent pounding on the ticket window. When he opened the window he saw a group of village schoolteachers.

They wanted to buy railway tickets to New York City. Being a railroad telegraph operator, he was not authorized to sell tickets. He then explained the situation to the schoolteachers, and told them that they could buy the tickets when the counter officer returned at 5 p.m. However, they thought he was coming out with a cock and bull story and wanted to know his name so that they could make a complaint to the higher authorities. He meekly said, “My name is William Shakespeare.”

He wondered whether he had made a fool of himself or whether he was being funny with them. “Did the railway authority know that they had employed someone to poke fun at patrons”?

The infuriated schoolteachers promptly made a complaint and he was eventually relieved from his duties. He was called before a disciplinary board where he had to defend himself. As the complaint was of a serious nature, he was transferred to another division.


After marriage, he arrived in Buffalo with his wife. They wanted to stay at a leading hotel. Although they did not have much luggage with them, they asked for a double room. Then he signed the register as William Shakespeare. The receptionist looked at him curiously and handed him the key. While leaving the reception, he heard someone say, “Boy, I’ve seen some beauts, but this one takes the cake!”

While he was a patient at Mount Alto Veterans Hospital, Washington DC, he was among the patients invited to President Hoover’s annual lawn social at White House. When the president arrived each patient was asked to introduce himself. They gave their names to an army major standing next to the president. When William Shakespeare gave his name, the officer could not control his smile. He nodded to a secret service operative in plain clothes.

He came close to William Shakespeare before he was presented to the president. The president’s smile changed to compassion. While leaving the president, William Shakespeare heard him say, “Some of these cases are very sad indeed.”

While he was visiting a patient in the psychopathic ward of a hospital, General Hines asked his name.

When he said William Shakespeare, General Hines walked away saying, “Oh, what the hell?” When a nurse explained the situation to General Hines, he patted William Shakespeare and said, “Son, I don’t blame you.”

This is not an isolated case. At present there are 15 people with the name William Shakespeare in the United States alone. Another 19 people in the US are named John Citizen, 17 are named Jane Doe, six are named Clark Kent. What is more, there are 3,961 Elizabeth Taylors, 3,399 Jennifer Lopezes, 10,323 Michael Jacksons and 892 George Washingtons!

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