What’s In a Name?

Ugh. I am not doing well. I managed to get (maybe) about two-and-a-half hours of sleep last night, and today I feel worse than ever. I’d figure it’s the flu, if it weren’t for the lack of any stomach upset (though I’ve eaten no more than a bowl of soup today). I can’t even watch a good movie, thanks to this relentlessly distraction-inducing throbbing behind my eyeballs.

Adam’s handling things at the office for now, but at this rate, I have no idea when I’ll make it back in (at the very least, tomorrow is not looking good). As our first hard-and-fast deadline approaches (the video has to be shown on the eleventh), I’m getting more and more concerned — especially since the clients are easily two weeks behind schedule. I keep checking in at the office only to hear a slew of messages about the “meeting crunch,” cringing every time I realize that (on paper, anyway) I’m even more pressed for time than they; we don’t even have a basic client footage-capture list. I’ve made what arrangements I can to get Adam some help, but since Ginny’s out sick as well, we don’t have a whole lot of options.

And as if it weren’t enough that Pam and I are staggering around like extras from Night of the Living Dead, last night we had a blackout to deal with. When we were finally able to get a human being at Dominion Virginia Power (we’re smart enough to have at least one phone that doesn’t require external power), they said it’d be at least a couple of hours before they had it restored. You know, things that are usually just minor inconveniences become serious annoyances when you’re one of the walking wounded.

I thought I’d be able to keep up the whole “cranky” thing in my writing, but right now I just want to crawl into a corner. E.J. Dionne has a good column in today’s Post entitled “The Politics of Payoff,” but I’m too wiped out to do anything more than recommend it for your perusal. And since yesterday’s rant didn’t do anything to alleviate my headache (or the fever, incessant coughing, congestion, etc.), I thought I’d try for something a bit lighter. You know, the whole “laughter is the best medicine” philosophy. Which, of course, is a crock — give me antibiotics over laughter any day of the week — but it probably won’t do any harm.

Now, this isn’t particularly timely, but it came up in a conversation this weekend, and since I didn’t comment on it back when I first read about it, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try now. Do you know what the second most popular name for girls is right now? Madison. Do you know where the name — at least in terms of its use as a girl’s first name — comes from? The Ron Howard-helmed movie Splash.

Remember the scene? Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks are walking through New York; her mermaid name being unpronounceable (at least without shattering every picture tube in the vicinity), he mentions that they’ll have to come up with something to call her. He glances up and absently notes that they’re on Madison Avenue, at which points she decides her name will be “Madison.” Hanks promptly laughs at the ludicrousness of the name, but in the face of her insistence, he decides it’s not worth arguing about; the name sticks. Gene Weingarten pointed this fact out in his “Below the Beltwaycolumn of September 21st. Yes, it’s a humor column, not exactly prime research material, but his explanation makes sense. And since in my condition I’m too worn out to do any actual research, I’m gonna stick with it.

Of course, since Splash came out in 1984, you don’t see any women born before that named Madison. Which is why I couldn’t help but laugh when they dubbed Demi Moore’s character in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle “Madison.” Um, Demi looks great and all, but there’s no way in hell she’s only nineteen. (I don’t honestly think they meant for us to believe she was; the writers just weren’t doing their homework.) Granted, from what I have seen, the name of a character was the least of that movie’s problems (I never actually watched it, having seriously disliked the first film).

Sure, names come into and out of style. Legitimate but unconventional names with strong cultural origins are cropping up all the time; there’s nothing wrong with tapping into your own culture’s traditions to name your children (although a recent study has shown that — as much as we may wish otherwise — you won’t be doing them any favors come job-hunting time). And I’ve got nothing against girls named Madison themselves — one of my daughter’s friends bears that moniker. As a rule, kids don’t get to pick their own names. But I still can’t help but laugh at the rash of completely made-up names we’re seeing more and more frequently (remember “SanDeE*” from L.A. Story?). And when you can pinpoint the silliness of a name’s origin this specifically, it’s all the more ridiculous.

As an amusing footnote to the story, an angry Letter to the Editor (alas, no longer available on-line) appeared in the November 9 issue of The Washington Post Magazine, in which Weingarten’s column appears. The writer, Ronald E. Narmi of Alexandria, rails against Weingarten, saying, “Doesn’t he know that we have had famous Madisons, including Dolley Madison and her husband.” When someone so obviously misses the entire point like this, it just adds to that ridiculousness factor. Kind of like a little comedic encore.

All right, I’m going back to bed to stare at the ceiling in yet another futile attempt to fall asleep. Wish me luck.


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