Saturday, August 17, 2013

John the Humorous

Over at Just Not Said, John Craig is always funny, but is especially funny in this post today:

Descriptive names

In the recent post on Westminster Abbey I mentioned that all English kings up through William the Conqueror (for instance, Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Confessor) were given descriptive titles rather than numbers after their names.

It's unfortunate that this tradition was not continued, as such names are far more informative than, say, George III or Elizabeth II.

To those of us unacquainted with Russian history, the name Ivan Vasilyevich probably does not ring a bell. But when we hear "Ivan the Terrible," the name he is better known by, we not only recognize him but feel as if we already know a little about him.

As it turns out, Ivan actually gets mixed reviews for his long reign, and many historians claim that his original Russian sobriquet, grozny, is more accurately translated as "fearsome" or "formidable" than as the more pejorative "terrible."

Still, personally, had I been Mr. Vasilyevich, I'd have preferred to be known to history as "the Terrible" than by my surname.

There are other historical figures, however, such as Vlad the Impaler, who were fully deserving of their descriptive names.

If only modern politicians had more descriptive names. What are family names, after all? They carry no more meaning than numbers do. And getting rid of them would help eliminate nepotism, and political dynasties.

Take our current President. Were the mainstream media to anoint him, he would probably become known as Barack the Savior. A more clear-eyed view might result in Barack the Con-man, or Barack the Narcissist.

However, as they say, history is written by the victors, so for now we'll have to accept the Savior.

Other recent Presidents could also be given such titles:

George W. Bush could be known as George the Heir (to denote his primary qualification for the office).

Bill Clinton could be known as William the Slick, a variation on a nickname he's already been given. Or, perhaps, Bill of Goods, to signify what he sold us. Or, William the Affect-hungry Sociopath.

George H. W. Bush could be called George the Accidental, an explanation of how he rose to the Presidency.

And so on.

Such names could extend beyond the Presidency. Harry Reid might be called Harry the Obstreperous.  Nancy Pelosi, Nancy the Know-Nothing. John Kerry, as John the Conniver. Hillary the Hanger-On (to her husband's coattails). Newt the Unembarrassable.

In the old days, such names consisted of one word. This could be limiting. It's a little hard capture Ron Paul without calling him something like Ron the Crotchety Old Foreteller of Doom -- which is not exactly a prescription for a successful candidacy nowadays.

Foreigners could be given such titles as well. Silvio (Berlusconi) the Self-Indulgent. Blair the Bland. Merkel the Sober Purse-keeper. And so on.

And we needn't to limit ourselves to politicians. Some showbiz types scream out for such names. Lindsay the Addict. Oprah the Mighty. Arnold the Austrian Accent. Johnny (Depp) the Chameleon.

Athletes could use such names as well. Though, once again, restricting it to one word could be a little limiting. OJ The Former Popular Heisman Trophy Winner Who Got Away with Murder is far more informative than OJ the Killer. Though the latter would suffice.

The only problem is, there are too many celebrities and not enough words to go around. (A thousand years ago, there wasn't quite the same media saturation.) Once you'd anointed Barack the Narcissist and Bill the Sociopath, how many other people for whom those names would be apt would be left without an appropriate descriptive title?
I was going to kid John at this point about his calling Ivan the Terrible "Mr. Vasilyevich," because of course "Vasilyevich" wasn't his surname, but his patronymic, so you'd translate "Ivan Vasilyevich" as "Ivan, son of Vasily," or, if you want to fine-tune translate it, "John, son of Basil."  But according to Wikipedia, Ivan the Terrible didn't seem to have a surname, though he's in the Rurik dynasty.  Generally, we think of the dynasty name as being the Monarch's surname, and it usually is.  Henry Tudor was in the Tudor Dynasty.  But evidently the Russians didn't think of it that way, and in Ivan's day, maybe nobody used surnames.  I don't know.  I do know, though, that the next dynasty, the Romanoffs, were referred to as though Romanoff was their surname.


  1. I have been using Bush the First, Clinton the Philanderer, Bush the Lesser, and Obama the Pretender.

  2. Russians use given name,then patronym. and finally family name or surname. Peter the Great (if I remember right) required the adoption of surnames, For example to use a Crim, who use Russian naming conventions, Joseph Stalin's name was originally Iosef Vissarionovich (Son of Vissarion) Dzhugashvilli. His daughter Svetlana was formally Svetlana Iosifovna (daugher of Iosif) Alliluyeva (apparently took mom's surname). Pedantry abounds.

  3. Baloo - could you follow me on Twitter? @Glaivester I'm following you and I'm getting closer to the 2000 limit.