Join Us For Fine Academic Names with Zephyr Teachout & Richard Titball!

Hello Funny Names fans! It’s been a good week for people with funny names, and by extension, those who enjoy learning about funny names. We take a special look at the names of very smart people today, by way of coincidence and because why the hell not!

In New York, a Democratic primary election for the governor’s office had a surprisingly close race as incumbent Andrew Cuomo just beat off challenger Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University with a brilliant name and some apparently good ideas. The oddly named Teachout (whose middle name is Rain) captured a solid 34% of the vote, far more than predicted by “experts”. Expect to see more of this fantastic name here in the near future.

The wonderful Zephyr Teachout, whose political ambitions may or may not match that of similarly named President of the Universe Zaphod Beeblebrox.

The wonderful Zephyr Teachout, whose political ambitions may or may not match that of similarly named President of the Universe Zaphod Beeblebrox.

The 2014 MacArthur “Genius” grant recipients were also announced this week, and they delightfully included the labor organizer Ai-jen Poo. Also hippity-hopping his way to a grant were lawyer Jonathan Rapping, rhyming historian Tara Zahra, and tea drinkers’ favorite Pamela O. Long. Long, the MacArthur Foundation tells us, has been “challenging our understanding of the role of scholarship and craftsmanship in Renaissance societies and demonstrating how technologies are deeply enmeshed within the broader cultural fabric” for some time. This, I believe, is really cool. You tell me.

Sticking with our academic theme, we were recently alerted to molecular microbiologist Dr. Richard Titball, at the fine Exeter University. We do not know if he shortens the first name to Dick, but we can only hope. By the way, next time you’re at your local bookstore (which is probably now wherever you are, whoops), pick up a copy of Dr. Titball et al.’s work “Insect infection model for Campylobacter jejuni reveals that O-methyl phosphoramidate has insecticidal activity”. True pageturner.

And finally, we wrap up our coverage with a little trip to real estate, where Neil Patrick Harris’ house in L.A was sold by an agent named Monty Iceman. Would you buy a house from a man named Monty Iceman? Heck, I think I’d specifically seek him out. You know, if I could afford a $3 million house that Neil Patrick Harris used to own. Happy Friday!

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Lee Iacocca

The week before Labor Day weekend, my better half and I spent some time driving around. We noticed two things, incredible weather and every imaginable iteration of the Ford Mustang, from the Shelby convertible to the original “1965”.

It got me to thinking about the man responsible for getting these cars onto the streets, Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca.

Try misspelling his last name.

Try misspelling his last name.

Born on October 15, 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania to parents, Nicola Iacocca and Antonietta Perrotta, Italian immigrants.

If you want to know what kind of impact this man had on our society, try misspelling his last name and see if your spell checker doesn’t autocorrect you . . . I’ll wait. ;-)

And he brought us the Ford Pinto with the controversy over the fuel tank design. And was quoted as saying “Safety doesn’t sell”.  And was the impetus for engineering ethics courses to use it as an example of poor cost-benefit analysis.

A lesson in spontaneous combustion or a lesson in engineering?

A lesson in spontaneous combustion or a lesson in engineering?

In the late 1970’s Chrysler Corporation verged on collapse. They courted Iacocca to take over. The company losing millions from the recalls of the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare—the jingle from the commercial is still stuck in my head to this day. Volaré oh oh . . .  sorry I digress.

Henry Ford II fired Iacocca and Hal Sperlich because he wanted nothing to do with the Mini-Max project, a re-invention of the mini-van. Iacocca took the job at Chrysler, hired Sperlich and several other former members of his team at Ford.

He pared down Chrysler. Realizing this would not save the company he did something very controversial, he asked for government guaranteed loans. At the time, Chrysler did not borrow a dime from the government, but that’s not how the public perceived it.

With the guaranteed loans, he introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager—the direct descendants of the Hal Sperlich’s Ford Mini-Max project. They led sales for Chrysler for 25 years. Followed by the subcompact Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon—again a Ford rejected project.

In the midst of this, his wife of twenty-seven years, Mary, died in 1983 from complications of Diabetes. Before and after her death, Iacocca was a strong advocate for better medical care for diabetics. He founded the Iacocca Foundation for Diabetes research. He married two more times but neither marriage lasted.

In 1987 he lead the acquisition of AMC bringing Jeep under the Chrysler umbrella.

He retired in 1992 from Chrysler as President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board.

But he didn’t stop there. In 1995 he assisted Kirk Kerkorian’s hostile takeover of Chrysler. The take over failed. But the next year Kerkorian and Chrysler came to a five-year agreement, which included a gag order preventing Iacocca from discussing the deal.

In 2005, Iacocca returned to the airwaves as the Chrysler pitchman. Part of his agreement with DaimlerChrysler—a $1.00 per car donation for every car sold between July 1 and December 31, 2005 to the Iacocca Foundation.

Iacocca wrote books, created businesses, remained an active philanthropist, advised Presidents. He’s even got his own blog. And he turns 90 in less than a month.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom

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Godfried van Voorst tot Voorst, Jr. and An Epic Dutch Name Poll

The Blog of Funny Names is a huge fan of the Netherlands. It’s not just their many fantastic feats like inventing gin, being the tallest people in the world on average, or their many, shall we say, “do what you want” type legal practices. No, what we most like about the Netherlands around here are their fantastic names. We’ve covered many, and we will cover many more.

Which brings us to today’s subject, Godfried van Voorst tot Voorst Jr. Full name Jan Joseph Godfried Baron van Voorst tot Voorst.

Yep, that’s a mouthful. Imagine spelling that to the DMV’s infernal robot phone “assistance” provider. Just the voorst.

The uncompromising look of a van Voorst tot Voorst man.

The uncompromising look of a van Voorst tot Voorst man.

Mr. Van Voorst tot Voorst was a very notable Dutch military figure from the early 1900s all the way up to the second World War. Born just after Christmas in 1880 to Jan Joseph Godfried van Voorst tot Voorst Snr, who was the President of the Senate at the time (I imagine their roll call took a good while), and the lovely Anna Cremers, who may or may not have been the daughter of a great dairy family.

Godfried Sr. also had a taste for wonderful names, marrying as his first wife the amazing Octavia Ottine van Nispen tot Pannerden. His second wife, whose name was also nice an long, was the daughter of the Dutch Prime Minister Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck, further cementing his awesome name credentials (as if that was at all necessary for the van Voorst to Voorst clan).

van Voorst to Voorst Jr went on to a distinguished military career, publishing numerous books on military strategy and politics, becoming a very influential figure in the country between the wars, and becoming a boon to lazy journalists who could reach their required word counts just by writing his name two or three times.

His influence is still seen today, at least in our eyes, in the continuing popularity of great names in the Netherlands. With Fedde, Cornelis, Gijs, Floor, and Guusje all in the top 100 most popular names given to Dutch boys and girls today, I think we can keep counting on this jewel of European naming to provide fodder for our blog for years to come.

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Mr. Bojangles

This classic song is probably best known from Willie Nelson’s cover, but it was written and first sung by Jerry Jeff Walker, and my own favorite has always been the version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (from Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy, 1970).

The great Bill Robinson who danced with Shirley Temple was also nicknamed “Bojangles” but Jerry Jeff’s song is about a homeless man and street performer he met when they were in the drunk tank together. In fact, there is some disagreement about whether that Mr. Bojangles was black or white. The best argument that he was white is that the jail was in New Orleans in 1965, when jails in the South were segregated.

Songfacts gives some background on the song:

In his book Gypsy Songman, Walker tells the story: “One of the guys in the cell jumped up and said, ‘Come on, Bojangles. Give us a little dance.’ ‘Bojangles’ wasn’t so much a name as a category of itinerant street entertainer known back as far as the previous [Nineteenth] century. The old man said, ‘Yes, Hell yes.’ He jumped up, and started clapping a rhythm, and he began to dance. I spent much of that long holiday weekend talking to the old man, hearing about the tough blows life had dealt him, telling him my own dreams.” Walker moved on to Texas, where he sat down to write: “And here it came, just sort of tumbling out, one straight shot down the length of that yellow pad. On a night when the rest of the country was listening to The Beatles, I was writing a 6/8 waltz about an old man and hope. It was a love song. In a lot of ways, Mr. Bojangles is a composite. He’s a little bit of several people I met for only moments of a passing life. He’s all those I met once and will never see again and will never forget.”

Mr. Bojangles (1968)

Mr. Bojangles (1968)

The song shows that a successful one doesn’t have to follow a formula:

“‘Bojangles’ broke all the rules. It was too long, was 6/9 time, about an old drunk and a dead dog. They had so many reasons why it didn’t fit anything. It would have never been a song if I had been living in Nashville and tried to take it through there.”

I had to shorten this Wikipedia list of recording artists who have covered “Mr. Bojangles”: Garth Brooks, Kristofer Åström, Chet Atkins, Hugues Aufray, Harry Belafonte, JJ Cale, Johnny Paycheck, Bobby Cole, King Curtis, Sammy Davis Jr., John Denver, Neil Diamond, Cornell Dupree, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Whitney Houston, Queen Ifrica, Billy Joel, Elton John, Lulu, MC Neat, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Cat Stevens, Radka Toneff, Robbie Williams, Buck Fisher, Bebe Neuwirth, Wendell Stuart, Dolly Parton and Helge Schneider . . .

As you can see, there’s a generous sprinkling of funny names in there! “Mr. Bojangles” is a gift that keeps on giving.

Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles

Mr. Bojangles, dance…

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Ova, Ova, Ova: Funny Names at the U.S. Open

“It’s true I always try to be as seductive as possible, but I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t play tennis.”–Anna Kournikova

Kournakova.  Yes, she also plays tennis.

Kournakova. Yes, she also plays tennis.

Rybarikova…Rodionova…Cepelova…Strycova…Pronkova…to the uninitiated these names may sound like they came straight from the roster of the Moscow Ballet.   In fact, they are just a handful of the 21 players whose last names end in “ova” in the Women’s singles main draw at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships now into the second week of play.   It seems that eastern European women would rather play tennis than dance–and why not? There is certainly more money in hitting those little yellow balls around.

So what about the men?  C’mon, now, you know better.  Men don’t have ova.   No, really.  There is not a single “ova” name in the men’s singles draw.    So where are all the Eastern European men whose surnames end in “ova?”  Hmm.  Maybe we should check the roster of the Moscow Ballet.

On the subject of the above quoted Anna Kournikova, it should be noted that the reigning USTA junior girls champion,  15-year-old American CiCi Bellis became the youngest woman to win a main draw singles match at the US Open since Kournakova in 1996.     And whom did Bellis beat?  Why Dominka Cibulkova, of course.

As for those of the “Y” chromosome persuasion, it seems the Eastern Europeans also contribute, with notable names including Czechs Blaz Kavil and Jiri Vesely and Slavakian Luckas Lacko.  All three were all somewhat lacko, though, and got knocked out in the early rounds, as did  Fecundo Bagnis, who just might be Bilbo Baggins’s Argentinian cousin.

Batten down the hatches, there's a Tornado coming.

Batten down the hatches, there’s a Tornado coming.

In the juniors,  the best name is a holdover from last year’s girl’s finals.  That would be Tornado Black.  What makes her name even more awesome is that her younger sister, Hurricane Black,  should be along to join her in a couple of years.  Who could ever hope to beat a doubles team named Tornado and Hurricane?

We can’t leave out the boy’s junior draw, where promising up and coming names winning first round matches included Korean Duckhee Lee and Americans Usue Maitane Arconada and Taylor Harry Fritz.  That last one is worthy of some discussion.  We’ve at times made comments about people who have two first names (like the eponymous Tommy John) and two last names (think Harrison Ford).  But in this case, we are looking at last name first and first name last.  Or for that matter,  maybe it’s inside out.  Taylor Harry Fritz?   Harry Fritz Taylor?  Fritz Taylor Harry?   No matter, as long as he wins.

I’ll actually be at the Open today…I’ll report in through the comments if I see any other newsworthy names anywhere else.   Anywhere.   Chair umpires, beer vendors, washroom attendants.  Don’t ever assume that I have a life.

Cheers :)   (more of my insanity at


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