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The Naming Of Streets
by [?]

It follows, then, that the Christian names and surnames in my first class sound beautiful or ugly according to what they connote. The sound of those in the second class depends on the extent to which it suggests any known word more than another. Of course, there might be a name hideous in itself. There might, for example, be a Mr. Griggsbiggmiggs. But there is not. And the fact that I, after prolonged study of a Postal Directory, have been obliged to use my imagination as factory for a name that connotes nothing and is ugly in itself may be taken as proof that such names do not exist actually. You cannot stump me by citing Mr. Matthew Arnold’s citation of the words `Ragg is in custody,’ and his comment that `there was no Ragg by the Ilyssus.’ `Ragg’ has not an ugly sound in itself. Mr. Arnold was jarred merely by its suggestion of something ugly, a rag, and by the cold brutality of the police-court reporter in withholding the prefix `Miss’ from a poor girl who had got into trouble. If `Ragg’ had been brought to his notice as the name of some illustrious old family, Mr. Arnold would never have dragged in the Ilyssus. The name would have had for him a savour of quaint distinction. The suggestion of a rag would never have struck him. For it is a fact that whatever thing may be connoted or suggested by a name is utterly overshadowed by the name’s bearer (unless, as in the case of poor `Ragg,’ there is seen to be some connexion between the bearer and the thing implied by the name). Roughly, it may be said that all names connote their bearers, and them only.

To have a `beautiful’ name is no advantage. To have an `ugly’ name is no drawback. I am aware that this is a heresy. In a famous passage, Bulwer Lytton propounded through one of his characters a theory that `it is not only the effect that the sound of a name has on others which is to be thoughtfully considered; the effect that his name produces on the man himself is perhaps still more important. Some names stimulate and encourage the owner, others deject and paralyse him.’

Bulwer himself, I doubt not, believed that there was something in this theory. It is natural that a novelist should. He is always at great pains to select for his every puppet a name that suggests to himself the character which he has ordained for that puppet. In real life a baby gets its surname by blind heredity, its other names by the blind whim of its parents, who know not at all what sort of a person it will eventually become. And yet, when these babies grow up, their names seem every whit as appropriate as do the names of the romantic puppets. `Obviously,’ thinks the novelist, `these human beings must “grow to” their names; or else, we must be viewing them in the light of their names.’ And the quiet ordinary people, who do not write novels, incline to his conjectures. How else can they explain the fact that every name seems to fit its bearer so exactly, to sum him or her up in a flash? The true explanation, missed by them, is that a name derives its whole quality from its bearer, even as does a word from its meaning. The late Sir Redvers Buller, taure^don hupoblepsas [spelled in Greek, from Plato’s Phaedo 117b], was thought to be peculiarly well fitted with his name. Yet had it belonged not to him, but to (say) some gentle and thoughtful ecclesiastic, it would have seemed quite as inevitable. `Gore’ is quite as taurine as `Buller,’ and yet does it not seem to us the right name for the author of Lux Mundi? In connection with him, who is struck by its taurinity? What hint of ovinity would there have been for us if Sir Redvers’ surname had happened to be that of him who wrote the Essays of Elia? Conversely, `Charles Buller’ seems to us now an impossible nom de vie for Elia; yet it would have done just as well, really. Even `Redvers Buller’ would have done just as well. `Walter Pater’ means for us–how perfectly!–the author of Marius the Epicurean, whilst the author of All Sorts and Conditions of Men was summed up for us, not less absolutely, in `Walter Besant.’ And yet, if the surnames of these two opposite Walters had been changed at birth, what difference would have been made? `Walter Besant’ would have signified a prose style sensuous in its severity, an exquisitely patient scholarship, an exquisitely sympathetic way of criticism. `Walter Pater’ would have signified no style, but an unslakable thirst for information, and a bustling human sympathy, and power of carrying things through. Or take two names often found in conjunction–Johnson and Boswell. Had the dear great oracle been named Boswell, and had the sitter-at-his-feet been named Johnson, would the two names seem to us less appropriate than they do? Should we suffer any greater loss than if Salmon were Gluckstein, and Gluckstein Salmon? Finally, take a case in which the same name was borne by two very different characters. What name could seem more descriptive of a certain illustrious Archbishop of Westminster than `Manning’? It seems the very epitome of saintly astuteness. But for `Cardinal’ substitute `Mrs.’ as its prefix, and, presto! it is equally descriptive of that dreadful medio-Victorian murderess who in the dock of the Old Bailey wore a black satin gown, and thereby created against black satin a prejudice which has but lately died. In itself black satin is a beautiful thing. Yet for many years, by force of association, it was accounted loathsome. Conversely, one knows that many quite hideous fashions in costume have been set by beautiful women. Such instances of the subtle power of association will make clear to you how very easily a name (being neither beautiful nor hideous in itself) can be made hideous or beautiful by its bearer–how inevitably it becomes for us a symbol of its bearer’s most salient qualities or defects, be they physical, moral, or intellectual.