December 28, 2006

Onomastic malice

I don't  have a clue about what my parents were thinking when they gave me my middle name, Wellington. Since childhood, I've tried to bury it by using only an initial, W, and I've been even more diligent now that W has taken on a, well, more pejorative meaning. But think for a minute about the public relations problem Barack Obama has these days with his own middle name, Hussein. Or, for that matter, with his family name, Obama. And Barack may not be so helpful either. David Wallis (note the omission of his middle name, Robin, or even his initial) writes about this in a recent Slate article.

Wellington is some sort of national hero in England, at least, but not for a working class kid growing up in industrial northeastern Ohio, where it signified only uppity stuffiness and pretense. It even served as a mocking insult when I missed a crucial shot in an important high school basketball game and my classmates in the stands shouted out, "Wellington," to show their disapproval--one of those memories that I want to erase but can't quite purge.

Already Republican strategist Ed Rogers and right wing screeder Rush Limbaugh have started a political and bigoted onomastic attack on Obama. So far, at least, Obama has tried to use only his first and last names, not even suggesting that there is an H lurking there some place. But middle initials are said to sound presidential, like John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald R. Ford, or Richard M. Nixon, and I wonder if Obama eventually will need to admit that he's forever stuck with an H there. Like my (sigh) W.

Posted by Roger Shuy at December 28, 2006 05:00 PM