What's in a name?

July 16, 1996|By Andrei Codrescu

NEW ORLEANS -- More and more I am astounded by the blinding significance of the obvious. Take names, for instance. You read a man's name above an article or on a book jacket and before you go any further you already know the whole story. It's all in the name, plain as daylight. Or course, we know that daylight is anything but plain, quite the opposite. ''We are hidden in the light,'' the Romanian poet said, and you don't have to be blind to know that things aren't what they appear.

Look at the name Umberto Eco, with its suggestions of shades and mirrors, and you have ''The Name of the Rose,'' a novel that's just that.

Or take this article from the Internet by somebody named William Crossman. It's about how in the 21st century there no longer will be any need to learn to read or write because something called VIVOs, Voice-In/Voice-Out computers, will give and receive verbal and visual information. That's our cross to bear and the man who brings us the news is Cross Man.

I know that there are people who collect names like doctors named Butcher or Pain, but the phenomenon goes beyond that. A book about the disgraced philosopher Paul de Man is written by David Lehman, so Da Man is debunked by Le Man, proving that the French and the English are still at it and what man does to man is plain as the name.

This stuff works in all languages, across languages, up, down and sideways. Take Codrescu: You say it Code-Rescue and it's about a guy rescuing some code about to disappear. Say it Cod-rescue and it's about a man saving fish. Or something.

Try this at home. It might spare you the labor of having to actually pore over people's products. It might save you from trying things that go against the grain. I mean, if your name is Dole why fight welfare?

Andrei Codrescu wrote ''The Dog with the Chip in His Neck,'' which, if you read this piece, will make it quite evident that he didn't really have to.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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