“Your name, sir?” The police officer had pulled over a speeding driver. “Ben Dover,” was the reply. An imaginary scenario to be sure, but can you imagine possessing a name that actually says something? “And your name, miss?” “Ophelia Self.”
John Foster, a Sun City Center retiree, is a passionate collector of such names. “I don’t seek to belittle any individual in assembling this sort of collection,” he says. “I simply regard these names as wondrous curiosities.” Sixty years ago, Foster inherited his father’s collection of remarkable names of real people and has expanded it to include some 1400 entries.
“It costs nothing to collect these gems,” he adds, “but their potential for amazement and humor is priceless.”
The hobby began with Pearl Button and Myra Venge, women whom his father had known. The collection eventually grew to include Turner Fawcett, Durdy Drawers, Royal Butler, Josephine Gotobed, May I. Fish, Southern Drinker, Perley Gates, Sno White, Never Fail, Anna Gramm, Safety First, C. Sharp Minor, Kuhl Brieze, Santee Klaus, Perry Gorick, Warren Pease, Katz Meow, June Blue Moon, Thanks Lord, Lotta Junk, Sparkle Plenty, Pokka Dotts, Marshall Arts, Cherry Vanilla, Constant Bliss, Fuller Beans, Phillip deGrave, Ure A. Pigg, and Ima Rose Bush.
Authenticity is Foster’s creed; they’re all real to the best of his knowledge. No stage names, pen names or aliases (Englebert Humperdink the composer, yes. Englebert Humperdink the singer, no.) Oddity is his criterion. “Unusual and fun names which intrigue or beguile, and thus, give pleasure.”
He gets them from newspapers, former students, friends, relatives and other collectors who are similarly afflicted. He used to swap names in batches with two or three avid “connoisseurs.” Through the mails flew the likes of Eucalyptus Yoho, Oldmouse Waltz, Odius Champagne and Dextrose P. Saccharin (of Glucose, Pa.). “Honest!” claims Foster.
While some of his collection, when pronounced, seem to make a certain peculiar sense, many are just plain bizarre. Names like Ichabod Onion, Gaby von Bagge of Boo, Arveseth Eyolf, Zip-A-Dee-Doo Dawb, Christ J. Seraphim, Trammel Sploun, Cashmere Tango Obedience, Oofty Goofty Bowman, and Romeo Yench.
This latter chap belongs to Foster’s exclusive list of names that move from the sublime to something less than sublime. For example, Hyacinth Mudheaver, Gladiola Wormwood, Opal Suer, Freelove Outhouse, Valentine Germ, Elizabeth Izabichie (Lizzy), Gretel von Garlic, Portia Klutz.
Foster continues, “Then there are names which reflect some aspect of a person’s occupation.”
His examples include: a Boston cashier, Fonda Cash; a burglar, Rob Robb; a lecturer on morality, Solomon Gemorah; dentists named Toothacre and Gargle; a swimmer at Stanford University, Stanford Schwimer; police chief Dick Tracy; an optometrist, I. Doctor; a lawyer known as Jay Outlaw, and the former archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Sin.
“It’s rare,” he adds, “to find an individual whose first and last names are unusual. In those cases you feel you have added something truly worthy to your collection. Collectors place greater value on a Delphinium Potty than on a Henry Commode.”
And what do you name such a hobby? “Onomastics” has been suggested, “name calling” has not. Foster prefers to think of himself not as a nomenclator, but rather as a nomenphiliac, though he knows that purists will grouse that it’s part Latin, part Greek. But what’s in a name?
John Foster is always grateful for contributions to his collection. You may submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. He is requesting the last known location of the individual and the full name of the submitter.