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 August, 2006


 First and last name recognition

What’s in a First Name? Or Even a Last Name?
By Al Owens
For the past two weekends, I’ve decided to watch old Hitchcock movies. I’ve already seen Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, Saboteur, Rebecca, The Paradine Case, The Lady Vanishes and Marnie. Ah, Hitchcock. He’s undoubtedly, as they say, The Master of Suspense!

By the way, you knew exactly whose movies I watched without my having to mention his first name – Alfred. Alfred Hitchcock was held in such high esteem, he earned single name recognition around the world. His work was so highly regarded that anybody who directs a thriller these days just may have some critic proclaim it’s “Hitchcockian”! For the record, few films truly are “Hitchcockian”!

Alfred Hitchcock certainly is hardly alone in having earned single name recognition. His English homeboy Chaplin earned it too. Sir Charles Chaplin, like Hitchcock, holds that other distinction of having had a phrase named in his honor. Any film with a healthy amount of pathos can be described as “Chaplinesque”!

I wonder why some people earn single name recognition, while other people don’t.

Sinatra, Streisand, Shaq, Kobe, Tiger, Magic, Jordan or Elvis. I didn’t have to write Frank Sinatra for people to know who you’re talking about. Sinatra is all you need. It doesn’t even have to be a first name or a last name. Either name is good enough for automatic recognition. Tiger is an unusual first name, but Tiger is among the most recognizable names on earth! Probably it’s because Tiger is among the most recognizable people.

Now consider this. If I walked up to you and mentioned George, or Douglas, or Joe, or John you’d have no idea who I’d be talking about. I’d need to say, George Bush, Kirk Douglas, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis or John Kennedy.

Hum? John Kennedy. That’s something else that’s a bit fascinating to me. Why have a few of our Presidents gained three letter recognition, while others have not? The intitials J.F.K. and F.D.R.  are freely interchangeable with John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But W.J.C. might be a unfamiliar to you – while the name William Jefferson Clinton probably isn’t.

I’ve noticed most classical composers seem to have earned the respected single name recognition immediately. Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Mozart and even Liberace don’t require Johann Sebastian, Sergei, Ludwig van, Wolfgang Amadeus and Wlasziu Valentino for you to know who people are talking about.

Wlasziu Valentino Liberace? Now that brings up another point! I’m thinking those other classical musicians didn’t call themselves by their last names. I’d be willing to bet Liberace did. It’s natural to think of classical composers who were born in Vienna, or Moscow or Bonn. Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin – the home of Allis-Chalmers. Tractors and classical music? No wonder Wlasziu Valentino Liberace dropped the Wlasziu Valentino part!

Come to think of it, no wonder Cherilyn Sarkisian dropped the ‘ilyn Sarkisian, and just became Cher. And no wonder, by the time the soccer player Edson Arantes do Nascimento became famous, he preferred to be called by his nickname Pele’.

It also occurs to me that one needn’t be accorded first name recognition status for performing positive deeds. There’re Castro, Hitler and even O.J.!

There’s also Ira and George Gershwin. Yet when anybody mentions Gershwin they’re most always talking about one of them – George. Ira, George’s older lyric writing bother, was close yet so far away from achieving that elusive single name recognition!

Ah that single name recognition! Madonna, Sting and Popeye! Popeye’s last name is “The Sailor Man”. Maybe that’s why I can never get his number when I call directory assistance. What’s with that electronic, computer-aided, directory assistance, anyway? Heck! It can’t recognize any names these days. But that’s the stuff of another column.

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