What’s in a Name? – Letters, Sounds, and Associations


You know Juliet’s famous question and answer:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

True, it would, but on the other hand, if a rose went by the name ort[1], it might not seem to smell as sweet – you purchase a dozen red orts for your love; life is certainly no bed of orts; may I introduce you to my fiancée, Ortmarie?

Because I’m so attuned to the auditory essences of words, it sometimes surprises the combination of sounds parents choose when naming their newborns.

Take the name Michaela Loeb Krawcheck, for example.

Although Michaela’s a lovely name and Michaela Krawcheck’s okay, the first and last names don’t meld well the the spondaic middle name Loeb. It’s too much of a mouthful. Plus, your tongue has to go on a rollercoaster ride up and down the palate to spit it out.

No doubt Loeb is a family name, and homage is being paid.  Here’s an alternative: Lila Loeb Krawcheck.  Or ditch the Loeb and go Americana with Michaela Lou Krawcheck, or if that’s too low rent for your taste, Michaela Louise Krawcheck.  If my last name were Krawcheck, I might go all out with Michaela Loquacia Krawcheck, copping a rhyme with the twin trisyllabic first and second names.

Now, you’re talking.

However, most people are more visual than auditory, and of course, most names have origins, which people may be interested in karmically copping, e.g., Lucas = light-giving, as in lucent (or Lucifer).


Here’s a small sampling of newborn names that are trending in 2016.  First, let’s check out female names cited by the website baby center.

Romance is on the rise:  Amelia, Olivia, Gabriella, Ariana, and Camila are hot names for newborn girls in ’16.  Very Shakespearean.

What I call soap opera names, gender-neutral surnames, remain popular. Among them Addison, Brooklyn, Peyton, and Sydney.  These names suggest old money, whether there’s any or not.

One last trend features rather old-fashioned names like Sadie, Ruby, and Hazel, which is interesting because my grandmother was named Hazel, and she had two sisters, Ruby and Pearl.  No Sapphires, however. I certainly hope girls who receive these names are blessed with beauty.  A homely Hazel or sadsack Sadie might be better off as an Addison or a Brroklyn.

Okay.  What’s happening on the Y-chromosome side of the ledger.

Switching to the mom 365 website, we find they actually have the boys’ names ranked according to popularity.  Here’s the top ten: Noah, Liam, Mason, Michael, Elijah, Jacob, Ethan, James, Aiden, Benjamin.

What in the world are Michael, Jacob, James, and Benjamin doing in there?  I know some Mikes, Jims, Jakes, and Bens, though I suspect that none of these names will be shortened if the school where I teach is any indicator.  Michaels are not rare there, but you’ll never encounter a Mike under 30.

Of all the names I ran across in my cursory research, the hot trending name that most caught my eye was Jagger.  It sounds cool.  It conjures cavorting Mick.  But, like I say, make sure it goes well with the other names.  John Jagger Jones sounds a lot better than Jagger Tate Garbowski.

Oh yeah, here are a few names not trending in 2016:



Ellie Mae







[1] Actually, ort is the Anglo-Saxon word for table scrap.

Doddering Hippies, Tattooed Millennials, and New Born Babes


Five years ago when I was a younger whippersnapper in my late fifties, for Fall Break, Judy Birdsong and I rented a house in Saluda, North Carolina. That was the weekend when the brilliant South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore blew out his LCS, a seeming disaster that had me rending my garments and sending bootless cries to deaf heaven. Given the travails we’ve faced in the last two years, the sorrow I suffered over Lattimore’s not–anywhere-close-to-life-threatening injury seems a colossal waste of my precious time and a lesson in the importance of perspective.

The very next weekend, our hometown, the City of Folly Beach, celebrated Follypalooza, one of the frequent offseason festivals when the authorities close off vehicular traffic on Center Street. Follypalooza provides an opportunity for local businesses in the offseason to replenish their depleted coffers as daytrippers promenade up and down the boulevard drinking beer, purchasing sidewalk prepared food, and listening to various bands playing jazz or rock from strategically placed makeshift stages.


In the week between the visit to Saluda and the celebration of Follypalooza 2011, I had written this rather unkind comparison of the two resort communities:

Saluda’s affect – if you can use that word to describe a town – is the complete opposite of Folly’s tawdrylite.  Saluda is your great aunt Christina, once a formidable beauty, now a graceful matron, whereas Folly is your second cousin Brandi who sports a giant Minnie Mouse tat on her shoulder and way-too-short cutoff jeans that slice into her thighs.

However, we wouldn’t want it any other way. As my late mother used to say, “It takes all kinds to make the world/Variety is the spice of life.”  So during halftime of the South Carolina UMass game yesterday, a glorious, crisp, sun-splashed Day of Saturn, my spiritual advisor James T Crow and I walked the six blocks from our homes to Center Street to check out the festivities.

headed up Huron to Center Street

headed up Huron to Center Street

One unfortunate change from the Follypalooza of five years ago is that to imbibe on the street, you have to purchase a wristband ($2), which means standing in yet another line. The nice, chatty first grade teacher in charge joked about not feeling compelled to have me extract my wallet to provide proof that my date of birth was sometime before 22 October 1995.

waiting in line

waiting in line

As I stood in line, Jim rustled up some barbecue, and we met at the Jack of Cups where we had a front row seat for the bucking shark ride.

outside the Jack of Cups

outside the Jack of Cups

Yes, there were a few young kids, a sprinkling of teens, a fair share of tattooed millennials; however, the vast majority of sybarites were old enough to have AARP cards in their wallets, and I witnessed – and what a sad sight it was – doddering hippies, you know men with shoulder length white hair, dressed in tie-dyed t-shirts, wobbling along at a slug’s pace.


My mind wandered off to the nursing home of my future, and I pictured myself among wizened hippies trading stories about how in college they drove halfway across the continent to Mardi Gras while tripping on windowpane acid. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was once their dearest slogan, but as Ulysses once said to Achilles, “Time hath, me Lord, a wallet at his back wherein he puts alms to oblivion.”

Yet as Jim and I were preparing to leave, with these melancholy thoughts darkening my day, I bumped into a former student and her mother, a former colleague, pushing in a stroller their son/grandson “Prince Henry.”


Prince Henry

Ah yes! Let’s focus on the positive, not the negative. Let’s quit wasting our precious time lamenting the rightful inevitabilities of existence and enjoy the bright sun, the crisp autumn day, the deep blue sky.

Go Gamecocks.

Blitzkrieg Report Card Comment Seminar


One of my least favorite activities as a teacher is writing report card comments. It used to be worse, though. In my former incarnation as Department Chair, I actually had to read every comment each Upper School teacher wrote to ensure that some slip of the finger, unwanted auto correction, or careless cutting and pasting didn’t send the wrong message:

Harold’s prose feces[1] strong verb selection, but he needs to vary sentence structure. Looking ahead, in preparation for the research papers due November 1st, she should make sure to update her working biography as she adds new sources.

Remember how in the lower grades, you’d pack your book reports with unnecessary prepositional phrases to jack up the word count? Well, some teachers lard their comments with detailed synopses of the course curriculum. Sure, it fills up space but fails to provide any insight into how adept young Anastasia is in synthesizing the various components that led to the Russian Revolution. As a parent, I found these descriptions of the courses’ content boring and skipped down to see how sons Ned and Harrison were handling the material, which reminds me of my favorite report card comment ever.

In the 6th grade, my younger son Ned had taken Jesus for his Spanish name. His end of the year report card started with this not very promising topic sentence: “I’m so disappointed in Jesus.” [2]

Anyhow, here’s my method. First, I break down their averages into components:

Daily 58 Essays 84 Tests 60 Independent Reading 90[3]

A parent should infer from this information that young Livingston hasn’t been doing his homework. Ideally, the parent would understand the correlation of Livingston’s not doing his homework with his paltry test average. On the other hand, he’s not a bad writer.

Here’s what I might write below the averages on Livingston’s report card:

Livingston needs to make sure that he reads each of his homework assignments slowly and carefully. He should consider, not only the content of the pieces, but also the authors’ techniques.

Livingston’s writing is solid, though he relies too heavily on linking verbs and occasionally mistakes phrases and subordinate clauses for sentences. I encourage him to proofread his essays backwards, i.e., the last sentence first, the second to last sentence second, etc. This method slows students down and helps them to focus on each individual sentence.

Although the administration would probably prefer that I end the comment with something positive like “Livingston is very bright, and I encourage him to cultivate his native talents,” I generally don’t.  I’m a busy man.  I’ve demonstrated I’m very familiar with their son’s work (or lack thereof) and provided  practical suggestions (which of course I’ve already mentioned to Livingston in person several times).

Donald Trump was up this morning at 3 a.m. tweeting. Maybe I could farm out some comments to him.

Lazy Livingston can’t be bothered to read his assignments. He keeps this up and he’ll be flunking out of mediocre UMass next year. That is, if he  gets in. Pathetic!


[1] A very unfortunate auto correction of the intended “features.”

[2] Which brings to mind a stanza from the Ezra Pound poem “Ballad of the Goodly Frere”:

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man

His smile was good to see,

“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,

Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he. (my emphasis)

[3] Which would result in a 75 for the quarter.

The Pea Brains of the South

51kdl6fwrhl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Ladies, gentlemen, bulldogs, and babies, I’d like to introduce you to Henry Heppleworth, a product of the brilliant comic imagination of my expat pal, Charlie Geer, author of Outbound: The Curious Secession of Latter-Day Charleston.  Do yourself a favor and cop a copy here.

Charlie and his wife Concha, who live in Andalusia, Spain, visited Judy and me last summer during an extended stay in Charleston, and I passed along to Charlie a copy of WJ Cash’s The Mind of the South, a fascinating, intuitive study of that section of our great nation that Winston Churchill called “a minstrel show wrapped in an episode of Hee Haw inside of a Euripidean tragedy.”

Yesterday Charlie sent me a link featuring Henry with this message:

[The clip is] Heavily inspired by The Mind of the South, for which I thank you dearly. The clip started out as satire, but is starting to feel like tragedy [. . .] The original script was much more nuanced, but alas, there’s not much room for nuance on YouTube. Hopefully future installments will redeem Henry in some way, once he understands he’s been used and abused by the people he votes for.

So without further ado, dig it:



Leonard Cohen’s Saunter into ‘That Good Night’


I first heard Leonard Cohen in David Williams’s black pick-up truck, and it was the very first time I had seen a cassette deck. As far as I knew, 8-tracks were still the only way to listen to recorded music in a moving vehicle. I think Robin Kellam was with us. I think we were driving north on Highway 61. But one thing I do remember for sure: it was the song “So Long, Marianne” that snatched my attention.



The female back-up singer in the chorus struck me as deliciously retro bordering on clunky, and then there was that gypsy vibe, those exotic Middle Eastern instruments[1] and the lush religious imagery. In the David Remnick profile that appears in this week’s New Yorker, Cohen describes the audience he sought to reach: “inner directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”

In other words, Keatsian/Yeatsian romantics like I-and-I.

I lit a thin green candle

to make you jealous of me,

but the room just filled up with mosquitos.

They heard my body was free.


Yes, I was a romantic back in those days but thankfully not of incurable variety. By the time I was out of college, Cohen had begun to bore me a little (and still does). Even his former lover Joni Mitchell dismisses his as “a boudoir poet.”

Bores me except for the occasional killer composition like “Tower of Song” and “First We Take Manhattan,” which I heard Warren Zevon cover explosively at the old Music Farm on East Bay Street.

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom

For trying to change the system from within

I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

However, what do I know? Here’s Remnick quoting Dylan:

I asked Dylan whether he preferred Cohen’s later work, so colored with intimations of the end. “I like all of Leonard’s songs, early or late,” he said. “” ‘Going Home,’ ‘Show Me the Place,’ ‘The Darkness.’ These are all great songs, deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel. I like some of his later songs even better than his early ones. Yet, there’s a simplicity to his early ones that I like, too.”

Speaking of the end, when Cohen learned his former lover and muse Marianne Ihlen, the Marianne of the song, was dying, he sent her this email:

Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more because you know all that… Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAEME MITCHELL FOR THE NEW YORKER

Leonard Cohen at home, Los Angeles, September, 2016.

One night you’re barreling up Highway 61, and the next thing you know you’re an old man getting your house in order.

It’s clear from Remnick’s article that Cohen wasn’t joking in his email to Marianne. He’s “not long for this world.”

Again Remnick quoting Cohen:

“I’ve got some work to do.  Take care of business.  I am ready to die.  I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.  That’s about it for me.”

Let’s cue up some Yeats, one of Cohen’s boyhood heroes:

The death of friends, or death
Of every brilliant eye
That made a catch in the breath—
Seem but the clouds of the sky
When the horizon fades,
Or a bird’s sleepy cry
Among the deepening shades.

Whatever else you can say about Cohen, you cannot deny this: he is, in the phrase of my dear friend Jim Klein, “a cat.”

[1] Played, by the way, by David Lindley

Literary Prototypes for Trump


I’ve been rummaging through the dusty book-lined, cobweb-covered garret of my mind trying to find the literary character who most resembles Donald J Trump.

First, we need someone who is not particularly articulate.  Sure, Trump is quick-witted, capable of an occasional laser-guided zinger, but no one would ever mistake him for Macbeth (though the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor does share with the Emperor of Orange a lack of restraint and total unfitness for office).  What Angus said of Macbeth, Lindsey Graham could say of Trump, “Now does he feel his title/ Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe/ Upon a dwarfish thief.” However, no way does Trump possess the depth and eloquence to mutter, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more.”  When Macbeth is out for revenge, he says, “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”  Instead, with Trump we get, “If I win-I am going to instruct my AG to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation bc there’s never been anything like your lies.”

There’s perhaps a closer cousin to be found in Dickens, but the sad truth of the matter is that my moth-ridden mind only houses three volumes — Great Expectations, The Tale of Two Cities, and Hard Times — and I can’t think of anyone from those tomes who really reminds me of the Donald – though when it comes to holding grudges, Mr. Trump could give Mrs. Havisham a run for her pound sterling.

The best I can come up with his Michael Henchard from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.


Henchard, in the likely case you haven’t read the novel, gets drunk and sells his wife and daughter to a sailor, awakens the next day, suffers remorse (a very un-Trumpian emotion), swears off hooch, builds a thriving business, goes into politics, and is elected mayor of Casterbridge.

Here’s Wikipedia’s patched together character analysis:

Henchard has a very impulsive temperament, although he also has a tendency to depression. He tends to take a sudden liking, or a sudden dislike, to other people and can be verbally aggressive even when sober. Henchard is respected in Casterbridge, having built up a strong business almost from nothing, but he is not well liked, and when he drinks, he can be abusive. Indeed, one of the reasons he does so well in business is because, after he sells his wife and child, he swears an oath not to touch alcohol for twenty-one years. When he decides Farfrae [a former business partner] is his enemy, he wages an economic war that, at first, is extremely one-sided. A risk-taker, Henchard eventually lets his personal grudge against Farfrae get in the way of his reasoning abilities. He takes too many risks, gambles too aggressively, and loses his credit, his business, and most of his fortune.

Nevertheless, although Henchard is exasperating, you somehow can identify with him.  You – or at least I – was terribly moved when I read Henchard’s last will and testament:

“That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.

“& that I be not bury’d in consecrated ground.

“& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.

“& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.

“& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.

“& that no flours be planted on my grave,

“& that no man remember me.

“To this I put my name.


To cut to the chase, Trump lacks the stature to be tragic and is too dangerous and mean-spirited to be truly comic.  Perhaps if we’re looking for a literary doppelganger, we’re better off searching comic books.  In fact, with his outrageous hair, orange complexion, and out-sized ego, Trump would make a fairly cool Batman villain.  The terrifying thing, of course, is just how close this Joker has come to being elected President of the United States.


Blow, Matthew; Crack Your Cheeks; Rage, Blow

Winslow Homer:

Winslow Homer: “Hurricane”

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

                              Adrienne Rich, “Storm Warnings”

As I type this, my wife Judy Birdsong and I are awaiting Hurricane Matthew’s arrival on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Ominously enough, Folly Beach is the name of this island. Folly’s main historical claim to fame is that Union soldiers occupied the island during our Civil War[1] and Gershwin wrote the music for Porgy and Bess here while staying at DuBose Heyward’s beach house. Heyward’s novel Porgy, by the way, features a hurricane, but one that sneaked upon the characters in those simpler days before Jim Cantore became a household name.  Nothing against Jim and the well-meaning folks at the Weather Channel, but enduring the high keen of their histrionic prophecies is a bit of a drag for us seasoned veterans of what Adrienne Rich calls later in the poem quoted above “troubled regions.”  Also, no doubt, well-meaning, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina shut down the state from the capital to the coast Tuesday evening.  She actually decreed all capital city schools be closed, including the University, even though the capital, Columbia, is situated 100 miles inland, and the order came over 48 hours ago.[2]

Here’s what it looks like right now from our bedroom window (i.e. 3:05 EDT 7 Oct 2016).

Our decision to defy Governor Haley’s mandatory evacuation order worries some of our friends, and it ‘s not surprising given the Weather Channel correspondents’ brow-beating and pleading. Perhaps because I am a native here, and this will be my sixth storm, I’ve come to resent the complete and utter lack of nuance we are subjected to during tropical events.

For example, we’ve been warned that there will be “storm surges that we’ve not seen since Hurricane Hugo,” which is true, though with Matthew the surges at Charleston are estimated to be 4 – 6 feet and with Hugo the largest was measured at 21 feet.

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

post Matthew damage on Daytona Beach

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Sullivans Island post Hugo

Believe me, if I lived in a mobile home or a one-story house on a slab at sea level, I would be long gone. However, we don’t, are in our 60’s, and as Judy puts it, “I  have cancer anyway.” In other words, we’re having fun, an adventure.   If only Fernando and Alameda Marcos could join us and sit in these throne-like stacked chairs hauled in from the screen porch.


We believe in science. Matthew’s pressure has risen 9 millibars in 6 hours, our house was built to exceed hurricane codes, and its bottom floor is 30+ feet above sea level.

In fact, my biggest concern is that we’re going to run out of boiled peanuts.


[1] AKA among the unreconstructed as “the War Between the States” or, worse, “the War of Northern Aggression.” As Hamlet put it, “though I am native here/And to the manner born,” I somehow ended up a liberal and acknowledge my region’s “manifold sins and wickedness” yet still somehow love Dixie, treasure my native soil. Go figure.

[2] Governor Haley, once the darling of Sarah Pallin, perhaps, to use hurricane lingo, has jogged to the left during her two terms, though it would appear that she’s not all that big on science. My son, who teaches in Orlando, much closer to the storm’s “wrath,” had a full day of school on Wednesday and a half day yesterday.