Illustration: Elmar Ersch
Whenever anyone frowns upon the Daily for publishing work they find obscene, frivolous, or otherwise undeserving of the prestigious Paris Review name, I want to direct their attention to our seventies issues. Readers who think we’ve published sixty-two years of Hemingway interviews and gentle sestinas will be surprised by the magazine’s irreverence. The Review of the seventies was, if the archive is any indication, a relaxed, profligate, and singularly fun place to work. It published some great literature. It also published, in the Summer 1976 issue, fourteen pages of silly names.
John Train’s “How to Name Your Baby,” republished in full below, is one of my all-time favorite finds from the archive. Referring to the work of a certain Office of Nomenclature Stabilization—an office that has since lapsed into obsolescence, I regret to learn from Google—it’s gloriously inessential, though I guess you could argue that it predicted the rise of the listicle. Train, who is eighty-seven now, cofounded the magazine and was its first managing editor; this piece only burnishes his legacy, and in the eighties he turned it into a line of books, including John Train’s Remarkable Names, Even More Remarkable Names, and Remarkable Names of Real People.
Just think: as the nation celebrated its bicentennial and Gerald Ford accepted the Republican Party presidential nomination, thousands of Americans were imbibing names like “Ogbert Snort” and “Mrs. Tackaberry McAdoo” right here in the pages of the Review. I’m proud to follow in its footsteps.
The original introduction is below, followed by the names themselves.
The work of the Office of Nomenclature Stabilization can be said to have started in the period 1949–1951, although its full organization in its present form—the voluminous files, the worldwide network of correspondents—only came later.
In one of those years John Train, then studying for a Master’s degree at Harvard in Comparative Literature, noticed in Collier’s magazine a Mr. Katz Meow, of Hoquiam, Washington. He mentioned it shortly afterward to Professor Howard Mumford Jones, who replied that during World War II he’d had a secretary named Miss Pensive Cocke. Soon after, Train reported this to a graduate school colleague who observed that while in uniform he had processed the Army discharged of a soldier named Welcome Baby Darling (now of Greenwich, Connecticut). Train, bemused, wrote all this down in the back of his notebook.
A little later in H. L. Mencken was discovered Positive Wasserman Jackson, and in Winston-Salem, N.C. Bunyan Snipes Womble and his soon Cadwallader Wellington Womble.
Later sources provided Miss Caresse Pecor (University of Vermont, 1971) as well as Doctor Ovary, a gynecologist at New York Hospital … and, of course, Madame Ovary.
In any event, Train felt a scholarly obligation to open a proper dossier to record the particulars of these discoveries, which seemed to have relevance to his then field of Comp. Lit.
The problem was to assure accuracy. In general, a documented source is required. One can scarcely go through life without appearing in print somewhere, at the least in a telephone directory, and with enough time a written authentication can usually be unearthed.
In the early ’50’s, Train moved to Paris. He was part of the group that founded this Review, of which he was for many years Managing Editor, while continuing his work in nomenclature.
The roster grew, as did the network of reliable correspondent. Some of the most valuable have been Joseph Fox, of Random House; Robert Myrhum, of CBS; Candida Donadio; Charles Harding, Chairman of Smith, Barney & Company; and S.J. Perelman, of The New Yorker.
(Additional submissions are warmly welcomed, by the way; always, however, with the fullest available documentation.)
In time, a formal organization of the work became inevitable, and the Office of Nomenclature Stabilization took shape, crystallizing into its present form.
Eventually those concerned with the O.N.S. became convinced that the results should be made available to a wider circle.
The reason is readily explained.
A dull name often means a dull child, and in an age of mass-men America scarcely needs more nonentities called “Chick” or “Buddy.”
No; the times call, instead, for new generations of pioneers and founders, men of strong characters … strong names.
Could Napoleon Bonaparte have torn down and rebuilt a continent if born Alfonse Petit? Could Winston Spencer Churchill have roused the English-speaking world as Ed Brown? Never. Gen. Ulysses Grant! What panache! Had his parents copped out with “Tim” or “Chuck” the Union must have sundered. There would be no bicentennial.
The Office has therefore sought in recent years to extend encouragement and example to parents tempted to settle for some lifeless damper of a name, leading to a weak and soggy younger generation born already on one knee, so to speak, before a power-greedy bureaucracy.
Alas, no commercial publisher, no foundation has come forward—perhaps because the spiritus rector is a mere “John” instead of a “Pontius,” “Vercingetorix,” or even “Lionel.”
Rather than wait indefinitely for a commercial or university publisher who may never appear, the O.N.S. has now consented to publish the accompanying fragments in The Paris Review, with which it enjoys so many ties of sentiment and history.
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