Spice up parties with tasty names

December 14, 2003|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff

As you were just saying to Marty O'Malley, perhaps, or depending on the party, Madison Smartt Bell. Big names in town, among others: Cal, Peter, Barry, John (Waters), John (Paterakis), and so on. With holiday parties upon us, it's always nice to enter the fray armed with a few good names to drop.

Perhaps you once did interior decorating for Cal and Kelly, and what wonderful, down-to-earth people they really were. Perhaps you personally sat in the corporate skybox with Brooks, or maybe it was Ben Carson.

Really now, who hasn't indulged, if only on special occasions? The season presents many opportunities to mix, with all the status anxiety such moments present. Nothing props a sagging self-image like dropping a radiant name or two -- slipping on the verbal elevator shoes.

"I think we all have a tendency to do that," says Edie Brown, who works at the Campbell Group, a Baltimore marketing and advertising agency. Before that, she worked for a couple of decades at the Baltimore Arena, where she was forever gathering droppable names. She'd be chatting with Neil Diamond one day, Luciano Pavarotti the next.

As Brown was saying just the other day to Kendel ... All right, she says she has certainly not been making a point of bringing up the fact that she recently attended a luncheon with Maryland's first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, not unless it comes up naturally in conversation, of course.

"People do it for different reasons," says Gail Kaplan, who has heard a bit of name-dropping, having spent years in the catering and restaurant business. It might, for example, be good for business to mention that, well, yes, one has actually catered for the Rolling Stones.

Give points to Kaplan and her husband, Lenny Kaplan, former owners of the Polo Grill, for admitting their own transgressions. Lenny, who was accomplished as a basketball point guard in high school and college, acknowledges how in a gathering of athletes he might succumb to temptation.

"To impress other people," says Lenny, "I may indicate that I played against someone of some stardom."

The old school tie

As editor / creative director of Style magazine, Brian Lawrence spends his share of time on the name-dropping circuit. In an e-mail, he notes that there does seem to be some cachet in starting sentences with "As I said to Martin (O'Malley) the other day ... " or "I was talking with Bob (Ehrlich), and he said ..."

Evidently, a gathering of O'Malley and Ehrlich intimates would fill the Ravens' stadium. Ehrlich, of course, graduated from Gilman, and Lawrence can't help but notice how the "old-boy private school network" rears its puckered face often enough in the question: "So, where did you go to school?"

And they're talking about high school. To a grown man long past college and even post-doctoral age.

"I mean, are you kidding?" Lawrence says. "Now, I went to a very fine school in Hagerstown, but you fall right off their radar when you mention going anyplace but here -- they just can't process that."

Because name-dropping is not only about notable persons in whose reflected glow one might -- for a proud, if somewhat pathetic, moment -- bask. Schools will do, and also fancy places one has visited.

Gregory Tucker, originally of Ohio, is spokesman for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but before that he worked for a congressman on Capitol Hill, where reflected glory is a major industry.

"You are who you know" in Washington, says Tucker, noting just one of that city's many charms.

Along with the other varieties of name-dropping, Tucker noted a visual form. No congressional office is complete without the wall display of framed photographs of the Congress member shaking hands with a person of higher wattage: various presidents, first ladies, British royalty, perhaps the pope.

Tucker also worked for the National Shrine in Washington, and in the course of that tenure -- well, he doesn't like to make a thing of it, but, all right, he met ... Mother Teresa.

As he recalls, she was a lovely person.

Tucker would rather not mention names of local name-droppers. For one thing, it's a small town. For another, while it may be acknowledged as a universal practice, name-dropping is hardly considered exemplary social form.

Where you drop it

As we were just saying to professor P.M. Forni of Johns Hopkins University. His academic specialty is Italian literature, but he also studies social etiquette and published a short book, Choosing Civility. He has a Web site (www.jhu.edu / civility / ) and a radio spot on WYPR.

"Name-dropping has a lot to do with context," says Forni.

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