Wednesday, September 19, 2012


September 19, 2012

O. That’s all you need say or write because for almost 25 years just about everyone has known who you mean and it’s not Obama. The president’s being called all manner of things but never just O. It’s Oprah, isn’t it – that’s  who O is. One solitary letter defines a person. Wow! If this were a board game the single O would surely trump three-letter flushes like presidents JFK, LBJ and FDR.
Noteworthy how we bestow this kind of MLK-type shorthand upon some of our American icons while others like Lincoln, Nixon and Reagan don’t merit it.  Nor even Washington and his companion founding fathers. No other country abbreviates this way. They use surnames: Hitler, Thatcher, Mussolini, DeGaulle and Blair, the British delighting in anagramming their unpopular former premier into Tony B. Liar.
For obvious reasons, nobody ever addressed Jimmy Carter as JC, or Barack Obama as BO. And dubbing Winston Churchill WC would have been, shall we say, quite potty,
Having yourself reduced to letters is ace, but being known by your surname alone is still pretty cool: (Rudolph) Valentino and (Grigori) Rasputin spring to mind. Probably should include Streisand and definitely De Niro.
And whyfor did Mr and Mrs Rock call their son The? They didn’t. The Johnsons’ son Dwayne used his nickname, The Rock, as his real name the way Paul Hewson became Bono, Gordon Sumner was Sting and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta evolved into Lady Gaga.
Then there’s the woman known as Fergie, the greedy and extremely nosewrinkleworthy Sarah Ferguson, ex-wife of Britain’s equally obnoxious Prince Andrew. Fifteen years later up pops American singer Stacy Ann Ferguson to become a second Fergie to the distasteful Duchess.
Today, there are also entertainers who go by only their first name. Seal, Rihanna, Mo’nique. No mystery as to why Icelandic singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir does.
But Madonna? I always thought that name was reserved for the Mother of Jesus, and then along comes this Ciccone floozie and dons the virgin garb, although she scarcely ever was one. Sacriligeously burns crosses and seduces a black Jesus. And then dedicates her ‘Like A Virgin’ to the Pope. All so disgustingly tacky.
In this country first names are used in all situations, even uncomfortable ones. “You’re under arrest for bruising Bruce and butchering Butch so you’re busted, Buster!” Somehow, calling me by my first name as I’m dragged, whimpering and incontinent, to the electric chair seems frightfully inappropriate.
Did this first-name business all start with Cher?  Not at all. Nor with Napoleon. Like everything, it goes way, way back, in this case to Adam and Eve. What exactly was their family name? Anyone know? When they set up home in their starter cave and put out the shingle by the mailbox what did it say? Maybe just the address: 1, Garden of Eden, Earth. No zip code in those days, of course.
Clearly, the use of given names has been a necessity in this multi-cultural United States because trying to pronounce some of the last names is oftentimes too gymnastic for the American tongue.
In too many instances the Irish-American officials at Ellis Island spelled names incorrectly, especially round St. – hic! - Patrick’s Day. Karol Józef Wojtyła was Pope John Paul II (“He love you,” remember that rhyme of his?) but a relative was Detroit auto worker John Wojytla whose Polish immigrant grandparents saw their surname switched around. Some who’ve been saddled with names that feel uncomfortable manage to insist on being called something else. Willard Romney says he’s ‘Mitt’. Our governor George Perdue dubs himself ‘Sonny’. Me? I’m stuck with mine: it’s the middle name that used to cause me such great embarrassment in my youth.
OK, so we’ve come full circle. O names include the late folk singer Odetta, flash-in-the-pan R&B artist Olivia and the highly objectionable loudmouth Omarosa. There was Jackie O and the Story of O, the erotic classic by Pauline Reage, real name Anne Desclos. And now we have another, a far less licentious tale. My own story of O.
Until I was old enough to fight back and discard it, I was called by my middle name: Orry. I’ve always resented being an Orry. Not when I was still in primary school and nobody seemed to take any notice. it was only later when the name’s perfect oddness hit me. And others. I was, so to speak, plainly... orryfied.
It does sound a bit Frenchy, the way they pronounce Henri and I would have preferred even that, perhaps Harry. But Orry?
Back in the day, there was a Viking chieftain of that name who ruled the Isle of Man, that cute 220 square-mile pimple in the Irish Sea midway between England and Ireland where I was born. It’s the national Manx name and I hated it. At times I’d dream about being my parents’ dad and excavating similarly bizarre first names for them.
Orry. Almost as shudderingly embarrassing as being a Boy Named Sue. But now I notice guys called Ormus and Ortwin and it’s a great relief.
Better still, watching television I find a brother. Orry’s the name of the Confederate hero in John Jakes’ epic ‘North And South’: Orry Main. How did ol’ Jakesy come up with that curious combination? You’d expect it to be the signoff at the end of a letter: Or a column.
Orry Main,
Yours Cynthia Lee,


© 2012 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.