The Science of Names


The Science WRITERS spend much time thought in selecting a name for a play or novel, for they know that success is largely dependent on it. Parents, however, are strangely careless and unscientific in giving names to children. In the Harvard and Yale catalogues of last year I find but two or three really good combinations. Usually, when a new-comer arrives, some old family name is taken ; or if the parents exercise an original choice, they are too much excited to be guided by any sound euphonic principles. They forget that not only from the social point of view it is very advantageous to have one’s name remembered, but that from the business point of view notoriety is capital, and must be obtained by persistent and ingenious advertising. But if a certain amount of notoriety could be obtained for John Smith by an expenditure of time, money, and ingenuity represented by x, and spread over a period of three years, it is safe to say that the same amount could be obtained for Hans Arrowsmith by 4 in eighteen months. Nor is the saving of time and money on the part of the knocker at the gate of notoriety the only thing to be considered, for, from the altruistic point of view, the lessening of the effort of recollection on the part of the world is far more important. The economy of the public stock of energy wasted in innumerable unconscious efforts to remember a name without any corners for the memory to grasp, but persistently thrust before it, would result in an increase of available mental force applicable to settling the question of future probation, or to raising the ethical standard, or to reforming the tariff, or to disposing of the surplus. The importance of the subject leads me to suggest one or two of the chief fundamental principles of the science of naming children. The system is simple, and any provident parent can easily master and apply it.

(1.) Avoid odd, or eccentric, or poetic combinations, and be guided by euphonic quality only. It is true that an odd name may be remembered, but the associations with it will not be pleasing. The idea of oddity or affectation may attach to the shadowy personality built up in the mind of the public. Under this rule, hyphenated names, especially hyphenated Christian names, like FloydJones Robinson, are to be avoided. Writing the first given name with an initial and the second in full is also evidently opposed to correct scientific principles.

(2.) The best form of name is a dactyl and a spondee, like “Jeremy Taylor.” Every one has heard of the “Shakespeare of divines,” and has a dim idea of an agreeable personality attached to the name. Had his name been Charles Taylor, it is far within bounds to say that his reputation would be about one third of what it is now.

(3.) If the surname is not one that can be treated according to the above rule, it should be fitted with a given name, such as to bring the combination as nearly as possible to the above length and cadence, as, Sidney Dobell, Ellery Vane, Henry Ward Beecher, Dante Rossetti, Theodore Watts, and the like; or, otherwise, to two long syllables, like Mark Twain or Bret Harte. The subdivisions of this branch of the subject are too numerous to be given, but all rest on principle No. 2. The phonic value of the surname is, under our custom, the controlling element in practically applying the science of names.

The great value of names beginning with Mac or O is evident, because they so readily combine with the ordinary Christian names. Any one would be favorably disposed to Arthur O’Connor, for instance. A boy pervades our quiet neighborhood simply because his name is Johnny MacWhorter. He is not in any respect a remarkable boy, but his name forces him into prominence by its phonic value. There are some ten or twelve boys who are comrades, but he and another dactyl-spondee boy, Emory Watson, are the only ones ever spoken of. No doubt there are others who do as much mischief and make more noise, but these two reap all the fame.

The nicknames given by children and base-hall players will be found to conform pretty closely to the true principles of the art.

I have formed names for my three boys in accordance with these rules, which will give the youngsters — if they ever appear — a start in life equivalent to a cash capital of at least fifteen thousand dollars. As their appellations will probably constitute their entire patrimony, I cannot be expected to mention them until they are securely attached to the inchoate personalities. I have indicated the outlines of the method, so that any young parent can, with a little thought, construct as many names as he is likely to need.