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Influence Of A Name
by [?]

There are unfortunate names, which are very injurious to the cause in which they are engaged; for instance, the Long Parliament in Cromwell’s time, called by derision the Rump, was headed by one Barebones, a leather-seller. It was afterwards called by his unlucky name, which served to heighten the ridicule cast over it by the nation.

Formerly a custom prevailed with learned men to change their names. They showed at once their contempt for vulgar denominations and their ingenious erudition. They christened themselves with Latin and Greek. This disguising of names came, at length, to be considered to have a political tendency, and so much alarmed Pope Paul the Second, that he imprisoned several persons for their using certain affected names, and some, indeed, which they could not give a reason why they assumed. Desiderius Erasmus was a name formed out of his family name Gerard, which in Dutch signifies amiable; or GAR all, AERD nature. He first changed it to a Latin word of much the same signification, desiderius, which afterwards he refined into the Greek Erasmus, by which name he is now known. The celebrated Reuchlin, which in German signifies smoke, considered it more dignified to smoke in Greek by the name of Capnio. An Italian physician of the name of Senza Malizia, prided himself as much on his translating it into the Greek Akakia, as on the works which he published under that name. One of the most amiable of the reformers was originally named Hertz Schwartz (black earth), which he elegantly turned into the Greek name Melancthon. The vulgar name of a great Italian poet was Trapasso; but when the learned Gravius resolved to devote the youth to the muses, he gave him a mellifluous name, which they have long known and cherished–Metastasio.

Harsh names will have, in spite of all our philosophy, a painful and ludicrous effect on our ears and our associations: it is vexatious that the softness of delicious vowels, or the ruggedness of inexorable consonants, should at all be connected with a man’s happiness, or even have an influence on his fortune.

The actor Macklin was softened down by taking in the first and last syllables of the name of Macklaughlin, as Malloch was polished to Mallet; and even our sublime Milton, in a moment of humour and hatred to the Scots, condescends to insinuate that their barbarous names are symbolical of their natures,–and from a man of the name of Mac Collkittok, he expects no mercy. Virgil, when young, formed a design of a national poem, but was soon discouraged from proceeding, merely by the roughness and asperity of the old Roman names, such as Decius Mus; Lucumo; Vibius Caudex. The same thing has happened to a friend who began an Epic on the subject of Drake’s discoveries; the name of the hero often will produce a ludicrous effect, but one of the most unlucky of his chief heroes must be Thomas Doughty! One of Blackmore’s chief heroes in his Alfred is named Gunter; a printer’s erratum might have been fatal to all his heroism; as it is, he makes a sorry appearance. Metastasio found himself in the same situation. In one of his letters he writes, “The title of my new opera is Il Re Pastor. The chief incident is the restitution of the kingdom of Sidon to the lawful heir: a prince with such a hypochondriac name, that he would have disgraced the title-page of any piece; who would have been able to bear an opera entitled L’Abdolonimo? I have contrived to name him as seldom as possible.” So true is it, as the caustic Boileau exclaims of an epic poet of his days, who had shown some dexterity in cacophony, when he chose his hero–

O le plaisant projet d’un poete ignorant,
Qui de tant de heros va choisir Childebrand!
D’un seul nom quelquefois le son dur et bizarre
Bend un poeme entier, ou burlesque ou barbare.
Art Poetique, c. iii. v. 241.