Article Date: 2/1/2008

What's in a Name, You Ask?
lessons learned

What's in a Name, You Ask?

Exploring misunderstandings, odd names and dangerous places.


Author Will Stanton tells of a party conversation with a British lady who had purchased a neighboring farm, which included a very old home.

"Are you enjoying your new home?" he asked.

"Very much," said the lady. "We have ghosts, you know."

"No," he replied, "It's funny, I've never heard of them before."

"Well, they weren't there before. We brought them with us."

"We had one in the house when I was a boy," responded Stanton in an attempt to humor the lady's obvious belief in ghosts. "I could hear it in the attic. Sometimes it would even come in my room."

"And it didn't bother you?"

"Oh, no," said Stanton. "I've always been quite fond of them."

Just then the lady's husband came up. After introducing him, she said to her husband, "Mr. Stanton and I have been having the most extraordinary conversation about goats!"

Heap of trouble

A misunderstanding of the names of persons or things can often cause a whole heap of trouble in communicating.

Another illustration is the Wgasa monorail at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. When the monorail was first built, authorities decided they wanted a jazzy African sounding name for it, and they e-mailed all the employees asking for suggestions.

One of the replies was just one word, "WGASA." They loved its African sound, so adopted it as the monorail's name. It was much later they learned that what the employee meant with his reply was not a suggested name, but instead a crude acronym for "Who Gives A S___ Anyway." (This has been verified as a true story. Not to imply that other things I impart to you are not necessarily true.)

Another name problem comes about when inappropriate names are joined together in marriage. One example I heard: When a guy named Joe Hardy married Shelley Harr, the headline about the newspaper story of the wedding, read "Hardy-Harr."

Odd names

Once upon a time there was a man who had been given the name "Odd" by his parents. When he became old and in ill health, he told his wife, "I've always hated my name, and I don't want to be identified by it on my tombstone."

Thus after he passed away, his tombstone was inscribed, "Born June 11, 1912. Died June 4, 1978," with no identifying name on it. It didn't work. When people see the stone with no name, they invariably say, "That's Odd!"

The story brought to mind a problem I've had, and I'm certain many of you have experienced the same problem. Some computerized mailing lists, in picking up my name as "Jack Runninger, OD" interpret the "Runninger" as my middle name, and the "OD" as my last name.

Thus I get mail requests for donations addressed to "Jack Runninger, OD," with the salutation reading, "Dear Mr. Od."

I maintain this is the only reason many people refer to me as odd.

Place names can be dangerous. I am told there is a town in Tennessee named Sweet Lips. If that's your home town, you'd best be careful if you're at a truck stop, and a burly truck driver asks where you're from. Responding "Sweet Lips," is probably not a wise answer. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2008