Fame-naming and family history

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

Fame-naming is a special case of after-naming. I am named after my father (Arnold Melchior Zwicky), and he was named (in a complex way) after his father (Melchior Arnold Zwicky), but no famous persons or characters were involved in these namings. On the other hand, my grandfather was named after one of the Three Wise Men, or Magi (Melchior; and his brothers Balthasar and Kaspar were named after the other two); this is fame-naming.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, is named after two forebears: her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Walcutt Daingerfield; and her father’s great-aunt, Elizabeth Pickney Daingerfield. That’s just after-naming. On the other hand, according to her mother, my mother Marcella Zwicky was fame-named (not merely after-named) for the fictional character Marcella in the Raggedy Ann books for children.

I was about to go on to compare schemes for the naming of pets (in modern American culture) to those for the naming of children — given our attitudes towards pets, the two are unsurprisingly similar — when I went to get illustrative material about Marcella and Raggedy Ann and discovered that, sadly, my grandmother’s story about my mother’s name could not possibly be true.

The name Marcella was a reasonably common girl’s name back then — in 1914, when my mother and her (fraternal) twin sister Marion were born — but the Raggedy Ann association must have come later: the doll design wasn’t patented for marketing until 1915, and the first book of stories didn’t appear until 1918.

Once those things had happened, the name apparently got associated in my grandmother’s mind with the dolls and the books; memory is like that, occasionally being re-worked to fit with new events and new influences. Finally, in 1929 came Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story:

The character Marcella with her dolls Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann

A good 20 years after that, my grandmother was telling me the story of how my mother got her name (a name she thoroughly disliked; everyone except her mother called her Marty, and most people never learned her real name).

Ah, the rocky shoals of family history.

The family names. My maternal grandmother — my Pa. Dutch grandmother, my Grandma Rice (as opposed to Grandma Zwicky, my Swiss grandmother), my Grandma Sue (legally Susanna, but she never used her full name socially) — had four children, all daughters, on three occasions:

Mabel, born roughly 1910 (the exact date isn’t important, but the age difference from the next set is, since it meant that they weren’t really playmates, but older sister + two kids)

Marion (not Marian) and Marcella, fraternal twins, born 1914

Mildred, born 1918, died as an infant the same year, in the great Spanish Flu pandemic, which also claimed her father, Sue’s husband Irwin Rice (a factory worker at Bethlehem Steel) — the grandfather who died 22 years before I was born

Yes, all M names — why did I never ask my grandmother about this? — all merely moderately common women’s names of the time (now all at least somewhat old-fashioned; similar to Matilda, Maude, and Millicent)), none of them high-frequency names (like Mary, Margaret, and Martha), none of them, it seems, trendy at the time (as, apparently, Mia, Madison, and Maya are at the moment).

The name Marcella. Etymologically, the feminine variant of Marcello, a diminutive of Marcus / Mark, from the name of the Roman god of war Mars. The C before E in Marcello and Marcella is pronounced as the affricate [č] in Italian (as in Marcello Mastroianni’s name), as the fricative [s] in French and in the French-derived name in English. I doubt that either my grandmother or my mother knew anything about the name’s martial, well really Martial, origins, or cared.

Etymon-naming — choosing baby names for their etymological meanings — is a real thing, but not at all common for names that are etymologically opaque (like the four above, and like Arnold and Melchior, versus etymologically transparent names like the women’s flower names Marigold, Rose, Petunia, Daisy, Petunia, Lily, Poppy, Dahlia, Violet, Jasmine, etc.). My father and I were entertained, but in no way illuminated, by my discovery (age 10 or so) that our name, Arnold, was etymologically ‘sea-eagle [erne] strong’ — an image that made me laugh: clever as a fox, playful as an otter, amiable as a dog, curious as a cat, maybe, but powerful as an eagle, I don’t think so, not my style.

The Raggedy Ann story. Some background facts from Wikipedia:

On June 17, 1915, shortly after submitting his patent application for the doll’s design, Johnny Gruelle applied for a registered trademark for the Raggedy Ann name

Raggedy Ann Stories (1918), written and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle and published by the P. F. Volland Company, was the first in a series of books about his cloth doll character and her friends. The book’s first edition also included Gruelle’s own version of the doll’s origins and the related stories.

Gruelle’s daughter Marcella died in 1915 at the age of 13; Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann doll was one of Marcella’s favorite dolls. Marcella then became the name of the little girl who played with Raggedy Ann (and Raggedy Andy) in Gruelle’s stories. Eventually, Marcella appeared as the title character in one of his books, published in 1929: the book above.

But when Marty Zwicky, my Marcella, was born, Gruelle’s dolls and books were not yet on the market, so Grandma Sue just picked some respectable girl’s name (in M) of the time for the baby. Later, when the name went out of fashion and she referred to her daughter Marcella (the only name she ever used for my mother), she no doubt found herself explaining that Marcella was the little girl’s name in the Raggedy Ann stories, and so came to think that the doll and stories were where she got the name.

Terminological matters. At the center of all this is a complex event-type (which I’ll call after-naming) is which people give names to things on the basis of existing names for other things. In which after-naming is described using the verb name, plus a PP complement with the P after (or its alternative for or from), illustrated here in the 4 active sentences abbreviated here (with the optional personal name in parentheses):

Gruelle named his character (Marcella) after his daughter (Marcella)

and in 4 corresponding agentless passive sentences:

Gruelle’s character (Marcella) was named after his daughter (Marcella)

The relevant bit of OED3 (June 2003) on the verb name:

I. To give a name to, to call by a name. 1. … c. transitive. To give a name or names to (a person or thing). Also (frequently in passive) with after, from, for (now chiefly North American), to (English regional (south-western)), †of, indicating the origin of the name. [cites with after / for / from from Middle English on]

Now to abstract away from the details of the specific Gruelle-Marcella event, very crude and skeletal representations of the argument structures in question, giving just the syntactic side:

active: Z name X (N) after Y

(agentless) passive: X be named (N) after Y

But now the semantics, for which we need an account of the participant roles in the situations, the after-naming events (or simply, after-namings) described via these syntactic forms. Again, stripped down for the simplest of cases (of which Gruelle-Marcella is one):

— a name N; this is a piece of linguistic form (phonological, orthographic, gestural) (this discussion assumes some more basic account of what it means for something to bear a name, which is far more serious semantics than I can deal with here)

— a nominifer Y, something that bears the name N prior to an after-naming (after-naming is a change of state: before it, something does not have the name N — it has no name or a different one — and afterwards, it has N, perhaps instead of an older name or in addition to one)

— a nominant X, something that gets the name N in an after-naming (note: an after-naming is a copying, not an exchange)

— a nominator Z, someone who assigns the name N to the nominant in an after-naming

— that is, with the after-naming active syntax Z name X (N) after Y —

there is a name, N, which nominator Z assigns to a nominant X on the model of a nominifer Y, which bears N

(Note that the name N can be implicit, rather than explicit, in an after-naming: Gruelle named his character after his daughter.)

or with the after-naming passive syntax Y be named (N) X (by Z):

there is a name, N, which a nominant X gets on the model of a nominifer Y, which bears N, (via an assignment by a nominator Z)

(Again, N can be implicit: The little-girl character was named after Gruelle’s daughter.)

No doubt there is some relevant literature — please note the modifier relevant — here on the practices of naming things in English and the semantics involved. But I am ignorant of it, so I’ve resorted to inventing a system of terminology for talking about these matters.

There is one bit of English vocabulary customarily used for talking about X being named after / for Y; the noun namesake is often used in describing this relationship, with the noun used for what I referred to above as the nominant in this relationship: I am my father’s namesake.

Alas, usage is divided as to whether X or Y in after-naming is called the namesake (X is the older usage, and still the standard usage, but the converse usage is very common); in addition, there’s a British usage in which two people who merely have the same name are namesakes (this is the usage supplied by NOAD, I see; meanwhile, AHD5 has only my nominant usage); a difference in usage on whether the relationship holds only between people or can hold between a person and some entity (a place (Charlotte NC),  a company (the Ford Motor Co.), etc.); and a difference on whether namesake names must be identical or can be derived from their models (Carlito, the son of Carlo; Charlottetown PEI; etc.).

The usage clashes between nominant namesake, nominifer namesake, and name-sharing namesake are pretty damning; I don’t think I can actually use the item namesake any more.

On the other hand, everyday usage of named after / for suggests that the relationship between nominant and nominifier should be extended past formal identity of personal names: after-naming covers Charlotte NC, the Ford Motor Co., Carlito and Charlottetown, and these examples gleaned from various real-life sources:

Prince Edward Island [in Canada] was named in 1798 after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767–1820), the fourth son of King George III and, in 1817, father of the future Queen Victoria

San Jose [CA] is named after el Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (Spanish for “the Town of Saint Joseph on the Guadalupe”), the city’s predecessor, which was eventually located in the area of what is now the Plaza de César Chávez

Yorktown [VA] was named for the ancient city of York in Yorkshire, Northern England.

And now I can hope to get on with Cats 4.

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