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Names and Their Meanings

NAMES AND THEIR MEANINGSUnless you created a vaccine for it, the last thing you want is to have your name associated with an illness or disease.  Or a pandemic.  Or a war, no matter which part of Korea or Vietnam you live in.  Will anyone ever choose Wuhan as a holiday destination from now on?

Lots of modern ailments are only modern because people live longer than they used to do.  Our brief longevity has come with a price tag, scrawled across which is a variety of unfortunate names like Parkinson, Huntington, Hodgkin and Alzheimer.  There is even a Turner syndrome, a prize nobody would ever want to win.  And Dr George Tourette was shot in the head by one of his foul-mouthed patients, which might have made the doctor feel like uttering a few swear words of his own, since he survived.

Hans Asperger was a particularly insightful doctor, who noticed that some children struggled to form friendships, held one-sided conversations about themselves, lacked common sense (I'm saying nothing), had limited facial expressions, odd speech patterns and a tendency to stare at others.  Perhaps he didn't have to be all that insightful to notice such things.

That inward eye which is the bliss of lockdown, I mean solitude, led us to some strange musings, reflections which took us beyond our everyday mirror, like Alice's looking-glass.  In the 19th century, the use of mercury in hat-making led to a high rate of mercury poisoning among those working in the industry, which in turn gave us the phrase "mad as a hatter."  I wonder if Alice was aware of that.

David AitkenIn my particular case, I made three new acquaintances in quick succession the other day -- a rare event during a pandemic -- whose surnames were Miller, Merchant and Drinkwater, and this started me thinking about where names come from.  Miller is easy to guess, some ancestor spent his time either grinding corn or gritting his teeth when the harvest was poor.  Merchant is self-explanatory, and the Drinkwaters were perhaps partly responsible for Dust Bowl crop failures.  I'm guessing there wasn't any corn liquor available as an alternative.

Sometimes names don't exactly tell the truth.  Mahler in German means painter, but he possibly joined the wrong queue in the job centre and became a composer.  An 'aptonym,' on the other hand, is a name that seems appropriate for its owner.  

Sara Blizzard is a weather presenter for the BBC; she once studied drama, which must often help.  A long time ago, I met Jules Angst, a Swiss professor of psychiatry at Zurich University, who has published books about anxiety.  Nothing he said worried me particularly.  Not at the time, at least.  

An example, perhaps, of a half-hearted aptonym is the case of the American judge John Minor Wisdom, pity about that middle name.  And of course -- on the course -- Tiger Woods often has recourse to a stainless steel putter, which suits him to a tee. 

One particular name I recall was that of a shy girl at my primary school, who was called 'Peanut.'  She probably wouldn't be allowed in a classroom nowadays, even if we could convince her to come out of her shell, in case the other kids were allergic to her.  She had American parents, who sounded like nutcases to me.      


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