Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bad Names, part 1

I'm pretty sure the first Joe Baker was a baker and the first John Smith was a blacksmith and the first Jean le Gros was a fat-ass, but eventually people's names stopped referring to their occupation or their bearing and that's how we got people of average weight named Le Gros and that's how we got bankers named Baker. Occasionally you'll still see someone who fits his name, like Bernie Madoff, who made off with a lot of other people's money. But not often.

There are also people who should consider changing their names, if only for the advancement of their careers. For example, I probably wouldn't take Rat Girl and Claudius to a vet named Philip Catskinner. Actually, I probably would, if he was good and lived nearby, but for argument's sake I won't.

A couple days ago, while cataloging books that, once shelved, will never see the light of day again so obscure and musty are they, I came across a collection of sermons dating from the 1790s and with forbidding headings such as "On the true nature, extent, and perpetual operation of divine grace" and "General proofs that the second advent of the Lord hath taken place" (1792); all or most of which were preached to the New Jerusalem Temple in Birmingham (the English one, not any of the ones in the United States). What struck me is the name of the speaker, Joseph Proud. Obviously, "proud" is the adjectival variant of "pride," one of the seven deadly sins. Flipping to his short sermon "On humility," an antonym or pride I believe, I noticed that, at least in the first paragraph (who's got time to read this stuff anyway? Besides, I'm not actually allowed to read on the job unless necessary, which, in this case, it wasn't), the word "pride" never figures. Is that because Proud didn't think of it? Or is it because he didn't want to draw the comparison? Instead, he employs every other way of evoking pride, without actually using that word: "Self-exaltation is the child of self-love: it is a disposition opposite to the good of mankind...and the happiness of our souls; but such is the depravity of human nature, that every man inherits such a principle--is prone to the indulgence of it..." I'm sorry, Joe, I didn't catch that. Indulgence of what? Come on, say it. I'll give you a hint: It starts with a "p"... I especially enjoyed noticing that half of these sermons were published by a certain "J. Belcher." Belching, the call of the gluttonous, another deadly sin.

Later that day I came across a short biography of Pope Pius IX. The memoir, being French, was titled Pie IX and showed a crude portrait of the subject, whose long jowls betrayed what is almost certainly a love of pie. Here is a portrait of the man, in all his flakey, fruit-filled glory:

 Interestingly in this portrait, he is asking the bishop for just a tiny slice, although we all know he doesn't really mean it.

1 comment:

  1. I vote to maintain this new, non-New York Times reading list for the blog.