Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Name Game

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

- Romeo and Juliet

I hate to argue with a guy like William Shakespeare, but I have to. The quote above refers to Juliet's assertion that Romeo would have been the same wonderful person whether or not his family were sworn enemies to the Capulets.

It's an interesting philosophical question, would Romeo be the same person if his name were different? Shakespeare and conventional wisdom say yes. While this may be true in life, in works of fiction it is most certainly false.

How many bad guys in TV and movies have been named Victor? Victor Maitland was the heavy in Beverly Hills Cop. Popular Soap operas Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless each feature a mafia boss named Victor. The video game series Resident Evil features a manipulative mastermind named Victor Darius. Film's most famous private eye is Sam Spade, Sam Malone is a handsome leading man in one of the most famous TV comedies, and even children's TV's Fireman Sam is an example of someone to be emulated.

Consider another name: Barney. Fictional Barneys are not crime bosses or leading men. The most famous Barneys in America today include:

- An annoying dinosaur that sings sappy songs to toddlers. Parents of young children find him incredibly annoying. He's big and soft and purple and he talks and sings in silly sappy manner.

- The best friend of a chauvinistic cartoon cave man. He's good natured, yet slow witted and he is completely derivative of Art Carney's brilliant portrayal of Ed Norton on the classic show "The Honeymooners".

- A bumbling and incompetent law enforcement officer, so incompetent that his boss routinely confiscates his ammunition to avoid an inevitable accident. He's skinny and bug-eyed and screws up everything he attempts. His deep southern accent adds to the perception of incompetence.

- The chair of the US House of Representatives Financial Services committee, known for causing the housing bubble that has brought our economy down. His manner is flamboyantly gay, including a serious lisp. Incredibly, he has been known to allow gay prostitutes to operate out of his home.

These Barneys are buffoonish and cartoonish. Fortunately, they are fictional. Can you imagine a world where these types of characters could be real? (Shudder!)