At Large

Move Over, Darling

Spain corners the market in name brands.

By 1.25.07

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The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, and the government aims to keep it that way by prohibiting the exotic. By statute, names too unique and distracting are forbidden. As a fig leaf, the legislation poses as the guardian of the individual by adding: "any name that makes a person the object of ridicule." Clearly, though, the goal is to replace branding with blanding.

Darling Velez, a Colombian immigrant to Spain, has just had her citizenship approved, providing she modify her first name from the familial to the familiar. "Sorry, darling," the official explained. "I can't call you Darling, darling. It would subject you to being the object of ridicule." "But Darling is so darling, darling," Darling complained. "And I don't object to the subject." Her plea was rejected, making her dejected. So outraged is she that she threatens to take a Basque name to make her point.

This should give us an inkling how opposed European socialist thinking is to our political culture. From our red-state rednecks to our blue-state bluebloods, from our outright righties to our left-out lefties, we treasure the right to festoon our progeny with garish tags. O. Henry's yellow dog griped that his name, Lovey, was a "nomenclatural tin can on the tail of one's self-respect," and perhaps we should better seek other media to bespeak our idiosyncrasies. But to cede to the government the right to confine our in-house nomination process? To boil it down to a plain-vanilla approved list? No way; here is a rare patch of common ground for Dinesh D'Souza and Moonbeam Zappa.

"What's in a name?" you might ask the barred. After all, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet: "Oh, honey, a dozen yellow methanes. Really, you didn't have to. Ooh, they smell heavenly!"

On the other hand, the Talmud tells how Rabbi Meir avoided depositing his money in the local bank because the owner's name was Rob (or the Aramaic equivalent). When the man later absconded with the kitty, only the rabbi was left sitting pretty. The recent best-seller, Freakonomics, showed that certain names predict success, with the most powerful being the Hebrew name Dov (meaning bear). And when my neighbor was reminiscing how Ray Strack used to beat him up for his lunch money as a kid, I burst out laughing: "I guess we all lose money to the racetrack."

Names do shape us in various ways. In the song "Goodbye Norma Jean," written by Bernie Taupin and performed by Elton John, the title makes the point that the homey Norma Jean is first subsumed, then consumed, by the worldly Marilyn Monroe.

They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on a treadmill
And they made you change your name.

Then cognition of the cognomen was twangily serenaded in I Got a Name by the late Jim Croce, who highlights the tension within the name as representative of both selfhood and a parental legacy.
Like the singin' bird and the croakin' toad
I've got a name, I've got a name
And I carry it with me like my Daddy did
But I'm livin' the dream that he kept hid.

In the Spanish system, names are no longer worn as a uniform -- they are uniform. My friend John Smith groans he can't take his wife to a motel without being winked at conspiratorially as a philanderer; they hear his name as myth. The Spaniards avoid this problem by making everyone into John Smith. Perhaps they should append sequential numerals, like a license plate or an e-mail address: "Hi, I'm Luis the fourteenth." Try this over a PA at Madrid Airport: "Maria Ramos 1142, please pick up the red courtesy phone." Or carved into a Barcelona oak, a heart with the legend: "Jose 816 loves Elena 544." I guess when those Commies said they were against naming names, they were not kidding.

So fight for us, our darling Darling. Do battle for your identity and ours. Honor your parents and their vision for your life. Don't let government types whisper into your brain about the security of the nondescript. Never sacrifice your fiesta for their siesta. Today you're number one, tomorrow you'll just be a number; eventually they will discount you as a supernumerary. Only they, with their imaginations compromised by conformity, could see you as an object of ridicule.

Blandishing you into blandness is soft fascism, but in the end it is just as tyrannical as brandishing the branding iron.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.