Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Slips on the Desk

My desk accumulates stacks of paper that I tend to sort roughly by size, from tiny stick-it notes, through small slips torn from pads (usually filled with numbers), on up to regular 8.5x11s with stuff printed from the web. I came across one of these, one ripped from a steno-pad of the sort Brigitte uses for her version of a diary; we have stacks of pads all filled up, ready, and waiting for historians—and brand new ones still tightly held in shrink-wrap straight from Staples waiting for her pen. My torn sheet bears, along with numbers, such annotations as “Oh, if only…” and “1848-1931,” no doubt the birth and death years of someone notable, and additions like 10 + 10 + 7 = 27, indicating that I must have been really tired; finally, at the top, the words “La Nuestra Señora.”

I remember jotting that phrase down in delight and wonderment, having come across it somehow, somewhere. I also remembered bookmarking a page from the Internet where I went later to confirm the name and to learn more. That page is here. It reveals that the original name of the settlement that mushroomed (pancaked?) into Los Angeles was originally La Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula—Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Little Portion—that last phrase coming from the Italian for a “very small parcel of land” (porziuncola). The very long name for the settlement came to be shortened to El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, later to Los Angeles, finally to L.A.

Back when I made the note a wonderment came over me—names, and lengths, very small things, very small places, and grandiose hopes. At my birth I was christened Szentmártoni Darnay Arzén Farkas Gyula Mária. Some thirty years after that, by then in Kansas City, we knew a family where the lady of the house, called Dorothy, was a tall, thin, strange woman who had a memorable laugh and lively way of never stopping to speak with machine-gun rhythm. Her mode of speech inclined her to shorten all names. Brigitte thus became Bridge. And I became Ars. Now whether she intended that word to end in an e or not of that I can’t be sure. But she certainly got rid of a lot of complexity in the process.

The longer the name the smaller and younger its object. As the object’s size and complexity increase and become difficult even to encompass, the name shrinks in proportion until it has been eroded by endless use to a mere syllable or two.


  1. I wonder if this is a clever argument for giving one's children really long, complex names. Or, perhaps it could be used as an argument to start right off with a short name you like, by way of controling the inevitable erosion...

  2. Then we should have called you Mo--as some people are inclined to. After I finished I got to thinking that some celebrities are known only by one name--and so are some very famous people. B (to keep it short) refers to the Magee couple as MoJo all the time, certainly in annotations of clippings intended to come your way.

  3. Dear A, of A&B, I'm glad you decided on the more... dignified Monique!


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