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You should NOT make fun of people’s names.

UD learned this lesson rather late in life.

Well into their teens, she and her older sister, Barbara, would say the name Moise Tshombe together, the Moise very soft and then, explosively, TSHOmbe, and laugh hysterically.

But then, when La Kid was seven or so, UD encountered, in one of her books, Chrysanthemum the mouse. People make fun of Chrysanthemum’s name until one day her dance teacher, admired by all, discloses that her name is Delphinium Twinkle, and she’s proud of it. After that, people stop making fun of Chrysanthemum.

And yet… isn’t it true that even when you’ve learned this lesson, certain names and titles arise that make it difficult to contain your laughter?


I’m not talking about grossly ridiculous names intended to make you laugh, like Incontinentia Buttocks and Biggus Dickus. I mean real names and titles.

For instance — while the name Dr. P. “Som” Somasundaran isn’t particularly funny (It’s one of many long foreign names that Americans decide they can’t handle, and so they take the first syllable and make that a nickname. The long-name-as-funny thing only works if the name is insanely long, as in the Simpsons character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.), “Som”s title is, I think, funny. “Som” is La von Duddleson Krumb Professor, Director Langmuir Center for Colloids & Interfaces, Director National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Advanced Studies in Novel Surfactants at Columbia University.

La von Duddleson Krumb is a funny name. Go ahead and tell me it’s not.

And then there’s the insanely long tripartite title itself: Professor, Director, Director again… and then if you’re not so exhausted that you haven’t given up, you get to teeny little whimpering Columbia University at the end…

The underlying joke principle here I guess is that in going to amazing extremes to impress you with the amazingness of his titled amazingness, “Som” has accomplished the opposite of his intention.

Margaret Soltan, August 17, 2009 3:50PM
Posted in: floridly overwritten

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9 Responses to “You should NOT make fun of people’s names.”

  1. Dom Says:

    Amusingly, that seems not to be the donor’s name: she’s been referred to as Lavon Duddleson Krumb, and may have had a sister named Loreta.

  2. theprofessor Says:

    You can have MY novel surfactants when you pry them out of my cold dead fingers–if they don’t ooze out on their own, of course.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Obviously another Lavon Duddleson Krumb, Dom.

  4. Shane Says:

    That poor, poor successful guy can’t help the name of the person put up the money for his chair, or that he leads the center named for the first person to win the Nobel Prize for surface science (Irving Langmuir, ’32) or a prestigious NSF funded center. Really, shame on him for pointing these things out.

    My favorite chair-naming oddity is close to home. My advisor is now a chaired professor, and the family name of the donor was Lord.

    Yep, his is Lord Professor X! Straight out of the 18th century.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, Shane, I think he should have edited it down a bit. I’m completely prepared to be bowled over by him — my point is that I’d have been much MORE bowled over had he done a little editing. I don’t think there’s any law on the books that says you HAVE to include every title you’ve got every time. I don’t believe, for instance, that the Queen of England uses all of her titles.

  6. theprofessor Says:

    You know, UD, the La von Duddleson Krumb Professor thingie may actually be mandated by terms of the gift that endowed the chair. I have a friend with an endowed chair who is REQUIRED to sign any official, university-related document as the Billy Bullsnort Distinguished Professor of Phrenology (well, not quite that, but you get my meaning).

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Well, tp, this strikes me as a good opportunity for non-violent resistance.

  8. Brad Says:

    People all the time puff up job titles, probably to inflate their importance or to emphasize the significance of the job. All it does really is provide fodder for satire.

    Lucy Kellaway does her version of SOS on this subject here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7f0338aa-965a-11da-a5ba-0000779e2340.html.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Brad: The link doesn’t go to Kellaway. Here’s a link to some of her recent columns:


    She’s a wonderful discovery! Thank you.

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