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Influence Of A Name
by [?]

What’s in a NAME? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Names, by an involuntary suggestion, produce an extraordinary illusion. Favour or disappointment has been often conceded as the name of the claimant has affected us; and the accidental affinity or coincidence of a name, connected with ridicule or hatred, with pleasure or disgust, has operated like magic. But the facts connected with this subject will show how this prejudice has branched out.[1]

Sterne has touched on this unreasonable propensity of judging by names, in his humorous account of the elder Mr. Shandy’s system of Christian names. And Wilkes has expressed, in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, all the influence of baptismal names, even in matters of poetry! He said, “The last city poet was Elkanah Settle. There is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now Elkanah Settle sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits.”

A lively critic noticing some American poets, says “There is or was a Mr. Dwight who wrote a poem in the shape of an epic; and his baptismal name was Timothy;” and involuntarily we infer the sort of epic that a Timothy must write. Sterne humorously exhorts all godfathers not “to Nicodemus a man into nothing.”

There is more truth in this observation than some may be inclined to allow; and that it affects mankind strongly, all ages and all climates may be called on to testify. Even in the barbarous age of Louis XI., they felt a delicacy respecting names, which produced an ordinance from his majesty. The king’s barber was named Olivier le Diable. At first the king allowed him to got rid of the offensive part by changing it to Le Malin; but the improvement was not happy, and for a third time he was called Le Mauvais. Even this did not answer his purpose; and as he was a great racer, he finally had his majesty’s ordinance to be called Le Dain, under penalty of law if any one should call him Le Diable, Le Malin, or Le Mauvais. According to Platina, Sergius the Second was the first pope who changed his name in ascending the papal throne; because his proper name was Hog’s-mouth, very unsuitable with the pomp of the tiara. The ancients felt the same fastidiousness; and among the Romans, those who were called to the equestrian order, having low and vulgar names, were new named on the occasion, lest the former one should disgrace the dignity.[2]

When Burlier, a French wit, was chosen for the preceptor of Colbert’s son, he felt his name was so uncongenial to his new profession, that he assumed the more splendid one of D’Aucour, by which he is now known. Madame Gomez had married a person named Bonhomme; but she would never exchange her nobler Spanish name to prefix her married one to her romances, which indicated too much of meek humility. Guez (a beggar) is a French writer of great pomp of style; but he felt such extreme delicacy at so low a name, that to give some authority to the splendour of his diction, he assumed the name of his estate, and is well known as Balzac. A French poet of the name of Theophile Viaut, finding that his surname pronounced like veau (calf), exposed him to the infinite jests of the minor wits, silently dropped it, by retaining the more poetical appellation of Theophile. Various literary artifices have been employed by some who, still preserving a natural attachment to the names of their fathers, yet blushing at the same time for their meanness, have in their Latin works attempted to obviate the ridicule which they provoked. One Gaucher (left-handed) borrowed the name of Scevola, because Scevola, having burnt his right arm, became consequently left-handed. Thus also one De la Borgne (one-eyed) called himself Strabo; De Charpentier took that of Fabricius; De Valet translated his Servilius; and an unlucky gentleman, who bore the name of Du bout d’Homme, boldly assumed that of Virulus. Dorat, a French poet, had for his real name Disnemandi, which, in the dialect of the Limousins, signifies one who dines in the morning; that is, who has no other dinner than his breakfast. This degrading name he changed to Dorat, or gilded, a nickname which one of his ancestors had borne for his fair tresses. But by changing his name, his feelings were not entirely quieted, for unfortunately his daughter cherished an invincible passion for a learned man, who unluckily was named Goulu; that is, a shark, as gluttonous as a shark. Miss Disnemandi felt naturally a strong attraction for a goulu; and in spite of her father’s remonstrances, she once more renewed his sorrows in this alliance!