Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: An African-American woman christens her baby with a name based on an embarrassing medical term or bodily part after overhearing one of the nurses use the word.
Origins: Apologies for the offensive language in the first example. The quote comes from 1917, a time when racist humor was the norm. It stands not only as an early example of the legend, but also as an eloquent expression of the racist message which underpins it. Accept it as a graphic example of what this legend is really about.
Before delving into the legend itself, an entire category of "funny names" has to be dismissed. Key to the legend is the belief that the parents acted unknowingly in bestowing an embarrassing name on the young 'un. Unusual names are not in themselves folkloric; what makes them so are the perceived motivations of the parents.
There's nothing folkloric about a child christened Female (pronounced fuh-MALL-ee) if the parents understood full well what they were doing when they ponied
A properly folkloric version of the fuh-MALL-ee tale would have it that the parents saw the "name" on the baby's bracelet. Not being able to read well, they sounded it out badly, it fell on their ears prettily, and thus Baby was named. Alternatively, they interpreted what was written on the bracelet as the hospital having already named their child and the matter now being out of their hands.
Real-life fuh-MALL-ees are beside the point; what matters is how they came by the name.
As the 1917 example shows, this legend has been around for dogs' years. It now exists in two slightly different forms — the parents either misread a word, coming up with an unusual but pleasant-sounding pronunciation of same, or a member of the medical staff is overheard to properly pronounce the word, the parents think it pretty, and thus choose to stick the youngster with it.
Names reported to have resulted from misinterpretations of the written word:
Lemon Jello (le-MON-juh-lo)
No Smoking (NAWS-mo king)
Orange Jello (or-AN-juh-lo)
This legend is not strictly told of African-Americans; white Southerners are also sometimes cast in the starring role.
Examining the 1917 example again, the proud Black grandmother and her daughter are seen as attempting to exceed their presumed place and are punished for this act. Rather than stick to her own, the daughter has chosen an important-sounding name for her child. Her "uppityness" is duly rewarded by the joke being on her and her family.
Legend of the "kid named Eczema" ilk attempt to reinforce belief in the rightness of racism or regionalism. Just as parables were used in the Bible to communicate in a simple-to-understand form a behavior thought worthy of emulation, racist legends try to drive home the point that the looked-down-upon group is inherently inferior. Presenting the moral in the form of a story makes it easier to absorb.
Racism and/or regionalism play a part in a number of legends. (See our Password page for another such representative tale.) The more stories like these are told, the more the message of them is worked into the fabric of the people exposed to them. Hearing the "kid named Eczema" story again and again makes it that much more easy to think of Blacks as less intelligent.
Was there ever a mother so stupid as to name her kid Eczema without realizing what the name meant? Probably not. But because the story fits in with what's already believed about the shortcomings of whichever group the mother is supposedly part of, the tale will be
Barbara "undercurrent review" Mikkelson
Some Legendary Names:
[Anderson, 1924]There was a Nosmo King, but it was a matter of a grown man adopting an unusual stage name, not of an infant being saddled with his mother's stupidity.
Many ministers could, from personal experience, tell of strange names bestowed upon infants at their baptism, but few could equal the following story recently told by the Bishop of Sodor and Man. A mother who was on the lookout for a good name for her child saw on the door of a building the word "Nosmo". It attracted her, and she decided that she would adopt it. Some time later, passing the same building, she saw the name "King" on another door. She thought the two would sound well together, and so the boy was baptized, "Nosmo King Smith". On her way home from the church where the baptism had taken place, she passed the building again. The two doors on which she had seen the names were now closed together, and what she read was not "Nosmo King," but "No Smoking".
Ima Hogg was real, but not her rumored sister, Ura. Ima
A pitcher for the Houston Astros in the 1970s.
Daughter of Bill and Moya Lear (of Lear Jet fame).
Trout Fishing in America
In April 1994 Peter
Ronly Bonly Jones
[Reader's Digest, 1958]This name is likely apocryphal although many have claimed their fathers knew someone similarly afflicted (i.e., Jonly Bonly Stuart, Bonly Nonly Jones, Nonly Monly Jones, Gonly Bonly Jones).
My friend R.B. Jones doesn't have a first or middle name — only the initials R.B. This unusual arrangement was never a problem until he went to work for a government agency. The government is not accustomed to initialed employees, so R.B. had a lot of explaining to do. On the official forms for the payroll and personnel departments, his name was carefully entered as
Sure enough, when R.B. got his pay check, it was made out to Ronly Bonly Jones.
There turned up in the Navy a recruit who had neither a first name nor a middle name: just Jones — plus the initials R.B. The government took a dim view of this unusual nomenclature and entered his name officially as
Last updated: 4 May 2007
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.