The game of the name

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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gene Weingarten is on vacation. This column was originally published in 2002.

I love funny names. I notice them, collect them, remember them. Some names are funny because they are eerily appropriate to the person or his occupation, as with the hard-serving former tennis pro Anna Smashnova or the Secret Service agent Jeffrey Undercoffer.

When I have seen fit to laugh at names like these, I get letters from outraged readers. Sure, the letter writer is often named something like Orkney Gruntflaster, but his point is not without merit: People do not choose their names; ridiculing them is unfair and immature.

As a public act of contrition, I decided to apologize to people whom, in my former immature state, I might have made fun of.

"I'm just phoning to tell you that I do not find your name even remotely amusing, Dr. Gesundheit."

Neil Gesundheit is a prominent endocrinologist and professor of medicine in California.

"You're calling about my name?"

"Yes, but definitely not to make fun of it."

"I've been working on the medical school curriculum, and when you said The Washington Post, I thought you'd be asking how the new curriculum is going to be distinctive."

"Yes, in fact, that is much more interesting than your name. Please tell our readers about your new curriculum, Dr. Gesundheit."

"Each student is not only going to be a physician when he graduates but a real scholar in his field of choice."

"Wow!" I said. Dr. Gesundheit sounded pleased.


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