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My high school yearbook The Elizabethan sports such 3-syllable last names as Aschendorf, Biesecker, Espenshade, Hippensteel, Oxenrider, and Zimmerman. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania any roster of names would be heavily represented by families of German-Swiss origin.

Yes, there were Smiths, McLaughlins, and Youngs, but the Pennsylvania Dutch names far outnumbered them. On class rosters there were no names from the Cyrillic alphabet like Lyashchenko or like Chang, formed of Asian characters. Not a one. Yet as our world has grown more culturally diverse, so have the class rosters and phone directories of small towns like Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

In the January 6, 2015 edition of Performance Today, Fred Child referred to a list of musicians with jaw-breaking names. You can find the complete list on their Facebook page, but here are a few choice ones:

Composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf

Conductor Hans Knappertsbusch

Poet Walther von der Vogelweide

Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara

Composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber

Conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky

Musicologist Cuthbert Girdlestone

Tenor Wolfgang Windgassen

Ditters von Dittersdorf rolls most trippingly off the tongue as does the very onomatopoetic Windgassen. Imagine a tenor named Wind-gassen. Or even a wood-wind player with such a name!

My journal of our trip to the English countryside records place names that also tickle the tongue and the funny-bone. As I admonished my husband/driver to keep left while driving with a right-sided steering wheel, cute towns whizzed by with no-kidding names like Gigglewick, Blubberhouse, Wigglesworth, Nook, Cow Brow, Button Moon, and Hutton Roof. No, I didn’t make these up! There was even a Curl Up and Dye Hair Salon.

Ireland_Roundabout sign_6x4_300

In Scotland menus feature haggis (chopped sheep hearts, livers, mixed with oats and spices), bashed neeps (turnips), and champit tatties (mashed potatoes). In Ireland we encountered the quaint village of Ballyvaughan, and Cairig Beag, a Bed & Breakfast not far from the town of Sneem with houses colored bright orange, Kelly green, and sunny yellow.


What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet . . . .

In Act II of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare writes of the star-crossed lovers who bear the names of their feuding families, Montague and Capulet, implying that the names of things [people] do not affect who they really are or their love for each other.

"A rose is a rose is a rose . . . "  Gertrude Stein

“A rose is a rose is a rose . . . ” Gertrude Stein

Actually, in the expression “a rose is a rose is a rose,” Ms. Stein was referring to the English painter Sir Francis Rose, not to the flower as is commonly supposed. Now the phrase has come to define anything that is incapable of explanation.

What place or people names strike you as fanciful or interesting in another way? 

I love words! Share some of yours.

Bonus: As it happens, this week memoirist/friend Shirley Showalter blogs on the power of naming as a way to find one’s vocation and calling. Read about it here.

 

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