There's one gratifying thing about talking to a Manxman: You never have to talk how to spell your name - at least if it is Cojeen, Fargher, Keig, Mylroi, Quirk, Radcliffe or any other several dozen surnames that originated on the Isle of Man.
There, on the 227-square-mile dependency of Great Britain halfway beyween Ireland and England in the Irish sea, a name like Radcliffe (with a "d" and "e") becomes pretty repetitious in the telephone book and, for that matter, the cemetery.
The same goes for Bridson, Brew, Comaish, Crellin, Gawne, Gilrea, Joughin, Leece, Looney, Sayle, Scarffe, Teare and Watterson. SOme are names with a distinctly Celtic ring, others reflect a Scandinavian ancestry dating from four centuries of Viking rule.
Two people with a better idea than most about what's in a Manx name, Betty Quirk Hanson and Geoffrey Thomas Crellin, members of the Isle of Man's 1,000-year-old parliament called Tynwald, stopped in Washington en route to Cleveland to help the North American Manx Association observe its golden jubilee. While here, they extended a couple of invitations. One was to the "Millennium of Tynwald" next summer.
"It's just going to be a simple little 1,000-year celebration," said Crellin, "nothing to do with the ethereal at all."
The other invitation was to descendants of Manx emigres to use something called "Operation Roots."
Long fascinated with their own origins that date back to the Celts, the Manx took more than polite interest in the American TV series "Roots." It wound up inspiring them to set up a process offering assistance through government and church documents to people with Manx surnames interested in tracing their genealogy.
Usually those surnames start with a C, K or Q and roll off the tongue sounding like some ancient or mystical order of Druids. To a Manxman, though, they don't sound odd. Neither does he place much stock in the coincidence of kinship.
"At home," said Crellin, also an authority on the Manx poet T. E. Brown, "we have a saying: 'Same name, no relation, different name, second cousin."
Though the island's population hovers around 60,000 (and is hardly growing by leaps and bounds with fewer than 200 lives birth annually), authorities display more than casual interest in far-flung offspring. They optimistically reckon that worldwide there are a million Manx descendants. About 250,000 are in the United States, 180 of them in Washington. And Pitcairn Island is alive with them because the Bounty's crew, you'll remember, was Manx.
The Bounty legend, in fact, is one the Manx know intimately, as demonstrated by Betty Hanson. Captain Bligh was married in Douglas, the island's capital, where he also met Manxman Fletcher Christian, who later led the mutiny. The meeting occurred at a party given by the family of Christian's cousin Peter Heywood. Heywood also sailed on the Bounty at the insistence of his Manx family, who thought the sea voyage would be good for what ailed him.
Rounding up everybody, whether from Pitcairn or Washington, in time for the "Millennium" is not to be confused with any "gimmicky" effort to beef up the island's tourist industry, according to Crellin.
"I'm terrified people might think that."
Even so it is at that event next summer that Manx folsk hope their Lord of Man (actually a woman - Queen Elizabeth II) and anybody else interested in the world's oldest continuous bicameral legislature will join them.
But not necessarily stay on.
With no inheritance tax, a flat 21 percent income tax for all ("We made a big concession last May," said Crellin, "by knocking off .25 of a percentage point"), 4 percent unemployment, 8 percent inflation and a $2-million budget surplus, the island is a model of monetary restraint if not also a fabled haven for the wealthy.
It also boasts one of the world's lowest crime rates, which some Manx might attribute to a unique law that permits punishment for some crimes by whipping with a birch rod.
It is hardly any wonder then that Manx folks get a trifle touch when civilization pokes its nose into the island's business, as the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, France, did last winter.
In a 6-to-1 decision, the court found the practice of judicial corporal punishment "degrading" and "inhuman."
"We resent another country, or group of countries, interfering," said Crellin.
Another unique, if ancient, law permits Manx people to saly on sight all Scots. Scots visiting there next summer need have to fear, however. The last murder by a Manxman of anyone, not necessarily a Scot, was 40 years ago.