Friday, April 4, 2014

And the First Shall Be Last

Augustus John
Think about all auspicious personalities whose last names are typical first names. At the top of the list you have Anne Frank and Pope Francis. But there are also Dick Francis and  Philip K Dick, Rand Paul and Ru (ok Paul is really part of his first name, but why miss a beat), Phyllis George, John Irving and Deborah Harry. Anthony Lewis was a distinguished journalist and Susan B. Anthony a famed social reformer. And what more classic case of the carriage preceding the horse than David (Jacques-Louis), the pre-eminent l9th century painter. Jacob Joseph was a l9th century rabbi after whom an Orthodox Jewish school was named and don’t forget the comedian Larry David who created Curb Your Enthusiasm, a title that will resonate with anhedonics for eternity. Do you remember the sixties soul singer Joe Tex? He performed magic with microphones which he turned into pendulums and can we not say that Ben is Big Ben’s last name?  It’s rare that you have a person who has the same first and last name. It would be unlikely that Irving was one of the names on the list of possibilities that John Irving’s parents came up with before they finally settled on John and in spite of Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert it is also unlikely that any parent would be gauche enough to name their male offspring Dick Dick. You don’t want to bring a child in the world who is going to live up to his name and behave like a Dick, no matter how much you might like the name. Augustus John was a famous Welsh painter, but there was no chance his parents would have named him John. Among other problems it wouldn’t have been august enough. Washington Irving could easily have been Washington George if his parents had changed their last name to another common first name, George. And the father of our country could easily have been Washington Irving if George Washington’s parents had liked idea of retaining their surname as a first name and decided to make the common first name Irving, their last.

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