Last week I was interviewed by a radio-show host about my collection of good and bad surnames. The host told me later that the interview led to many calls to the station and and days of discussion among the radio-show staff members. Below is what I said.
When I was a law student I read a case in which one of the lawyers was Mr. Brilliant. I had a feeling his side would win, and it did. He had a great name for a lawyer or for anyone. I decided to start collecting good surnames and have continued to do so for decades. I often think of these names as just right for an expert witness for my side of a case: Dr. Wise, Dr. Winner, Dr. Smart. I also collected names I’d like for experts on the other side: Dr. Wrong (who was an expert witness in a case), Dr. Boring (a well-known psychologist), Dr. Loser. Other names in this category: Sillitoe (the name of a well known writer), Sicko, Carnage, Lipschitz, Mishmash.
Many of us have little or no choice in our surname, but women (and men in some places) can marry into a surname. A woman could become Mrs. Worm, Mrs. Toad, or Mrs. Death.
A person phoned in to mention Cardinal Sin (of the Philippines) as a person with an unfortunate name. I responded by saying that a high school classmate of mine had the surname of Doktor. If he had gone on with his education, he could have become Doctor Doktor.
The show host mentioned famous psychologist Karen Horney as having an unfortunate name. She also said that years ago when the Netherlands forced everyone to adopt a surname, some individuals protested by choosing absurd names, such as (in Dutch) Carrotonmyhead.
I ended the interview by saying that all the undesirable surnames I collected were from individuals getting positive media exposure — that’s how I heard of them. So, to answer my own question, names are not destiny, but some are certainly more appealing than others.
What memorable surnames have you heard?
John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology