I collect funny names. Funny names have a charm all their own. This “collection” started when I was in high school and reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. At one point the protagonist, Bernard, is brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe. Philosophical discourse on the state of the brave new world ensues. But a lot of that went over my head the first time I read it, so distracted I was as I marveled at this incredible name — Mustapha! Was it a real name? Could it be? This is science fiction after all — science fiction has quite the tendency to make up names. Later I learned that it was in fact a real name! “I have to remember this!” I thought. Thus was my collection of funny names born.
At some point after that I further learned that Mustapha, or Mustafa, is actually a very common Arabic name, but that did not tarnish its luster — it was still captivatingly unusual to me.
Next in the collection was Zbigniew. As in Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter in the ’70s. Mention of his name on the evening news became part of the background of my life. So, it’s a Polish name of course, but what a name! It was definitely on the list.
In college I took a course in medieval history and found it a treasure trove of odd names — Sigibert and Fredagunda were so on the list! Conversations with friends about this added a few more names from their family trees.
And there the list sat, forgotten as mere youthful skylarking… until last week. Lately I’ve been listening to one of the Great Courses as I commute: Ancient Empires before Alexander, by Professor Robert L. Dise. It is fascinating. The history — not of civilization — just since there have been Empires, extends 300 years further away from the time of Jesus than we stand today. The first empire (we currently know of) of Sargon of Akkad went from c. 2334 – 2278 BC. The 2300’s AD is where we’ve placed Star Trek in our fictional future. And that’s just the first empire; civilization itself goes back even further. It’s kind of mind-blowing to realize that civilization has more history BC than there has been AD — a lot more.
Ancient history is also a treasure trove of funny names! Studying ancient history though, you quickly become accustomed to unusual names. Names like Utuhegal, Hammurabi, Thutmose, and even Shamshi-Adad quickly cease to even raise an eyebrow after you’ve gotten into the idiom of ancient history. But then you run into a name like Tiglath Pileser! Wow! Tiglath Pileser, Emperor of Assyria. Leaving aside how brutal the Assyrians were — possibly even more brutal than the Romans — I still just have to say, “Wow! What name!”
Suppiluliumas and Shalmaneser are also definitely on the list! Suppiluliumas was a Hittite “Marcus Aurelius” or “Constantine” you might say. A later emperor who reversed a declining situation for the Hittites and rebuilt and expanded the Hittite empire. Shalmaneser was another Assyrian emperor. I forget his claim to fame — other than being an emperor of course — but again, what a name!
- Tiglath Pileser
Do you have any favorite odd names?