July 23, 2013

Richard is a proud old name, used by English kings known for their lionheartedness as well as the occasional hunchback, but it has fallen into disrepute and disuse in recent times — not only in various palaces, but in the ordinary life of commoners. In America, Richard does not even make the list of popular boy’s names. I blame Richard Nixon.

Town Crier
A Town Crier announces Friday that Britain’s royal family has a new addition. (Andrew Cowie / AFP / Getty Images

The most popular baby names for 2012 were recently announced. For males, the number one name is Liam. Second is Noah and third is Ethan, and you can go all the way down the list, past Jaxon and Jace, and keep searching but you will not find Richard. The name has gone the way of the telegram, the pay phone or the manly and forthright handshake instead of the cloying hug. We Richards are not on the way out. We are simply out.

Yet Richard was once such a popular name that, in the fourth grade, the thoroughly intimidating Mrs. Haenley — teachers back then did not have first names — assigned me the nickname Dick. This is because there were four Richards in that one class. So Richard Rauchbach became Richie and Richard Grossman became Richard and I became Dick and Richard Rogers, later to join the CIA and do something in the service of our country, became “Dufo,” a nickname of his own choosing and presumably not the last time he did something thoroughly inscrutable.

Later in life, I was inundated with Richards. Worse yet, Richard Cohens, of which there are an incredible number. One is married to Meredith Vieira and is an author and former broadcast journalist. I get his e-mails just as he once got a bottle of champagne meant for me when we were both staying in the same Des Moines hotel and he was covering politics for CBS.

Another Richard Cohen, this one then married to Paula Zahn (we Richard Cohens marry well), was the chairman of a Fifth Avenue co-op board and famously evicted a pair of falcons from their tony perch. Bird aficionados, all of them criminally insane, massed outside the building in frenzied protest, which I thought was funny until one of them winged an e-mail my way, threatening the only life I have. No joke that.

A Richard Cohen married Tina Sinatra, and when he did I got the very best table at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s celebrated Polo Lounge. Another kindly amended his name to Rich Cohen and has written some dazzling books under that abbreviation. Still another Richard Cohen is a world-class fencer and writer, and one is a shrink in New York.

We Richards once ruled the earth. The name itself means “powerful leader” and forsooth this is who we are. We were Richard Coeur de Lion (the Lionhearted), King of England (and everything else). We wrote stunning music (Wagner and Rogers), acted (Burton), loved (Burton), drank (Burton), flew (Branson), explored (Byrd), conducted (Bonynge), did science (Feynman), committed journalism (Davis), excavate the long dead (Leaky), made us laugh (Pryor), played tennis as both a man and woman (Raskind/Richards), sang and danced (Powell), wrote brilliantly (Wright, Ford) and giggled evilly as a wheelchair-bound woman was thrown down the stairs in a movie (Widmark). We were better than contenders. We were champs.

Now we are no more. A proud name has been replaced by the kitschy and cloying. (Number 75, Bentley, is a car, for crying out loud!). A surfeit of Richards has become a deficit, a nullity, a nothing. It’s not as if Richard is merely less popular than is used to be. It has totally disappeared, and, if I live long enough, I may become The Last Richard, a virtual tourist attraction.

Bloggers, tweeters and other fools will come to see me and ask what it was like to be named Richard. I will not tell them how I could not pronounce it or how I once saw a shrink by that name. No, instead I will tell them how it happened. It was no different than the name Adolf, now gone probably for all time — and good riddance, too.

But an heir to the British throne would change all that. It would restore Richard to its pre-Nixon (and pre-Cheney) grandeur and give Britain what it sorely needs — a lionhearted heir.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.