What's in a name?

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Many a colorful character passed through the motel my grandparents ran when I was a kid, but none more colorful than Terry Twaddle and Cotton Beanfang. I never met these gentleman but I knew their names. I remember the adults in my family being quite amused by the unusual monikers, even going so far as to make up a song about the two "lonely rovers."

Retired editor Larry Ashmead, who spent his career in book publishing, loves funny names, too, and he's been "collecting" them for most of his life. So, you could say his life's work now lies between the pages of Bertha Venation: And Hundreds of Other Funny Names of Real People (Harper, 152 pages, $14.95)...

Bertha Venation

It's one of those frivolous little volumes you can leave lying around to pick up when you need a laugh as it is endlessly entertaining to read through the collection.

I must mention a gaffe I found right away, in Chapter 2, "Apple to Zowie: Celebrities are Major Offenders," since the author was an editor and all. At the end of the chapter, Ashmead notes that a trattoria in Italy boasts the following celebrities have dined there: Farah Fawcet Mayor, Olive Brien and Katherine Hapburne. OK, funny misspellings, but the author himself misspells Jason Lee's son's name, Pilot Inspector (it's Inspektor) and later lists the Pitt-Jolie children — Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh and Pax — who, actually, are Jolie-Pitts (if you believe what you read in the tabloids, I guess).

That aside, even the nonfamous have some crazy ideas for names. In Chapter 5, "What Were Their Parents Thinking? Laugh-Out-Loud Funny Names," Ashmead tells the story of a professional acquaintance, Penny Hoare. Then there's Hedda Lettuce, Dooly Ponder, Bopeep Seahorse, Formica Dinette, Placenta Louise, twins Fonda and Lotta Dix, Virginia Ham.

Then there's the chapter, "Did I Hear That Right?" which could also be inluded in "What Were Their Parents Thinking?" Here we have all those names you hear as punchlines. These apparently are real: Barbara Fatt Heinie, Phat Ho, Phuc Yu and Anita Dick.

If you're still wondering whether the book is worth picking up, read some of the blurbs. Ashmead boasts quite a list of notables on the book jacket: Graydon Carter, Susan Isaacs, Tony Hillerman, Michael Korda and Rita Mae Brown, to name a few.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on October 16, 2007 8:11 AM.

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