Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Litanies of Given Names

Yesterday I poked fun at Simone de Beauvoir for having five given names only to be reminded later (I was collecting and taking out the trash), that I rank right up there with Simone: Arzen Farkas Gyula Mária Darnay. Okay. I only have four, but I match the French lady’s style by featuring a female given name as she does one male. Quite long ago I reached the conclusion—without any research—that the longer the list, the higher the social rank—or pretensions to achieve it. In my own case there was actually a title of nobility—although many families in Hungary had these, and the title was not bound to land-holdings. Simon de Beauvoir’s father was a legal secretary, but her mother came from banking wealth. In any case, baptism takes place when we are babies—and we can say neither yea nor nay.

Concerning that Mária in my name, it was not due to an eccentricity in my family but to a widespread custom in Catholic countries or families. Hence we have Erich Maria Remarque and Rainer Maria Rilke. This has its match in female naming in Hispanic languages where Joseph (as José) is added to female babies’ names. I’ve always valued the small reminder that within each man there is a woman—and Simone no doubt appreciated the presence in her of Bertrand. This custom speaks to the wholeness of the human being— however difficult to reach.

Today I thought I’d spend a little time looking at other philosophers. Here is a random selection arranged by the number of given names. Next to them I show the occupation/status of the father.

Father’s Occupation
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel       
Treasurer at the Duchy of Wurttemberg
Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl    
A milliner
Bertrand Arthur William Russell      
An aristocrat
Jean-Paul Charles Aymart Sartre      
A naval officer
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling                
A professor
Ludwig Joseph Johann Wittgenstein
A wealthy industrialist

Søren Aabye Kierkegard                   
Affluent family
Alfred North Whitehead
An educator, school founder

Thomas Hobbes                                   
A vicar
David Hume                                         
A lawyer
Immanuel Kant                                    
A harness maker
John Locke                                                           
A lawyer

Notably, in this list, a middle class background is the norm—as, of course, you might expect—although each person shown is an intellectual luminary. The list features but a single genuine aristocrat, Russell, although Hegel’s father was also up there, socially and professionally, close to a ducal throne. Among those with three given names, only Russell is English. And for what it’s worth, among U.S. presidents, the only one with three given names is George Herbert Walker Bush.

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