As ever, dear readers, welcome.

Songs always stick in my mind and sometimes pop up to ambush me.  Recently, I had this appear from nowhere:

“The name game. Shirley!

Shirley, Shirley

Bo-ber-ley, bo-na-na fanna,

Fo-fer-ley, fee fi mo-mer-ley, Shirley!


Lincoln, Lincoln

bo-bin-coln, bo-na-na fanna,

fo-fin-coln, fee fi mo-min-coln, Lincoln!”

It has a tune—really a chant—and you can hear the original here:

This is by Shirley Ellis (1929-2005),

with her collaborator, Lincoln Chase (1926-1980),

and became a hit when recorded by Ellis.  It was said to be based, at least in part, on a game which Ellis had played as a child and it sounds to me like it might have been for a game which uses rhythm and rhyme, as in skipping rope–

“Teddy bear, teddy bear: turn around.              (* Jumper mimes actions *)
Teddy bear, teddy bear: touch the ground.
Teddy bear, teddy bear: tie your shoes.    (* Sometimes 'Ladybug, ladybug' *)
Teddy bear, teddy bear: read the news.
Teddy bear, teddy bear: go upstairs.
Teddy bear, teddy bear: say your prayers.
Teddy bear, teddy bear: turn out the lights.
Teddy bear, teddy bear: say good night.
G-O-O-D-N-I-G-H-T.                                 (* Spell on each jump *)”
(This illustration is from Der kleine Kinderfreund—“The Little Children’s Friend”—an children’s book from 1860.   There are many illustrations to see and—a gentle warning—the text appears to be just jampacked with morals—for instance, how little Ernestine, in a moment of anger, broke her dolls and lived to regret it, so, if you don’t want to be taught behavior lessons, stick to the pictures!  You can see the whole book with its very interesting illustrations here:  The skip-rope/jump-rope rhyme is from  the wonderful Mudcat Café, a site for the preservation of traditional music: )
As the song was all about playing with names, it brought the names of characters in the stories I taught this semester back, with the differences to be seen in the different texts
 The most recent book, in relative time as well as in the span of the semester, has been Dracula, set in England in 1897, where the protagonists have names like “Arthur Holmwood” and “John Seward”, indicating that, not only does everyone have a personal name, but that everyone has a family name, as well.  These can be derived from a number of different sources-- -for example, upon a place—“Holmwood” looks to combine “holm”, a raised piece of land in marshy ground/an island, and “wood”, a grove of trees—and Seward (there’s discussion about this) which may be from an occupation, like all of those people named “Smith”, only Seward may be from Old English su, “pig” and hierde, “herder”.  
 The only character without a family name is the title character, Dracula, supposed to be modeled upon an actual historical person, Prince Vlad III of Wallachia (now part of Romania).  If he is, then we might see that “Dracula” as a family inheritance, as his father was Vlad II Dracula, where I would guess that that second name was originally a grim diminutive, from the root drag-, “serpent/dragon” and the diminutive ending –ula, “little”, so “Little Dragon/Little Serpent”, more like a nickname than a family name. 
 (For an extremely informative article about diminutives in many languages, see:   We might also notice here that Vlad has another grim nickname, tepes (pronounced “TSAY-paysh”), “impaler” from his well-known propensity for treating captives and Ottoman ambassadors in a less than hospitable way.) 
 (Angus Mcbride)
Our earlier works included Beowulf, c.500-1000AD, in which characters had personal names but, for further identification, would be linked to their fathers, as Beowulf is the son of Ecgtheow (EDGE-thay-oh), giving us patronymics (literally “about/concerning the father’s name”). This would change with the generations, of course, and had Beowulf had sons, they would have been identified as “Beowulfson”, although, in formal situations, one might stretch back another generation, so that we might see “Aelfric the son of Beowulf the son of Ecgtheow”.
 Even in the smallest communities, it’s easy to see how the addition of last names begins:  have two or more people in a village with the same first name, like William, and, when referring to one of them in conversation, the speaker might add after “William”, “Richard’s son” just to keep the listener clear.  As villages grew, we may imagine that occupations could be employed to distinguish this William from other Williams, as he might be the owner of the local grain-processor, and could then be “William (the) Miller” vs, say “William the Smith”.  (You can see how this becomes complicated, when you come across a name like “Smithson”, which includes an occupation become part of a name which is then used in a patronymic!)
 As characters in Dracula have last names based upon things like places and occupations, we can see the same for patronymics, in which the use has hardened in modern western Germanic names, producing permanent last names like Madsen (Matthewson) in Danish, and Johnson, in English, just as, we have Mac- and Mc- in Scots and Irish names and Ap- in Welsh (which can lose that A- in names like P-rice or P-richard, once Ap-Rhys and Ap-Richard), where those initial syllable indicates “son of”). 
 Going back one step further in our reading, we’d find that patronymics are also the rule for the Odyssey (difficult to date—our text probably dates from the 3rd to 2nd BC, but story elements are clearly much older), where Odysseus is identified as “son of Laertes”, just as Agamemnon is the “son of Atreus”, while Telemachos, the offspring of Odysseus, would be known as “son of Odysseus”.  There is another significance to this, as well, and it’s all about kleos, a word which, appropriately enough, comes from a verb meaning “to call by name”.   Kleos means “reputation”, sort of, but it’s broader than that, as it’s almost a kind of physical possession, and definitely something which can be passed down in families.  In a warrior culture, it includes all of the warrior’s achievements:   plunder, enemy towns captured, monsters slain, famous ancestors, and certainly famous or at least formidable opponents beaten.  This last almost ruins Odysseus’ trip home as kleos makes him shout to the blinded Cyclops his name and address, which gives the monster a target at which to aim,
as well the identity of the person who harmed him, which he then uses in a prayer to his father, Poseidon, who thereafter causes no end of sea-going troubles for Odysseus.
And finally we come to The Hobbit (date not available on our time-line—but “medieval-ish” in general).  The dwarves use patronymics—Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror (along with a nickname, “Oakenshield”),
(the Hildebrandts)
 but some characters, like the goblins and the spiders, have no names in the story at all.
(Alan Lee)
 Others, like the trolls—or the dragon--have only first names, like “Bill” or “Smaug”
(both by Tolkien)
 and then there’s “Gollum”.
(Inger Edelfeldt)
 Gollum, as we know, is a nickname, but, as we learn from The Lord of the Rings, Gollum has another name, “Smeagol”—and this is interesting because Smeagol is, in fact, a Stoor, a kind of proto-hobbit, but the hobbits of the Shire, as we learn from the few names we see in The Hobbit, and the many more in The Lord of the Rings, all have family names, as well as personal names—just think of the brief list given by Bilbo at his birthday party—
 “My dear Bagginses and Boffins…and my dear Tooks and Brandybucks, and Grubbs, and Chubbs, and Burrowses, and Hornblowers, and Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Goodbodies, Brockhouses and Proudfoots.”  (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-expected Party”)
 To which we could immediately add “Gamgees, Cottons, and Maggots” without digging any deeper.  Does the fact that Gollum/Smeagol has no last name suggest something about just how old he is, coming from a time before hobbits had grown to such numbers that they require more complex identification and therefore acquired family names?  (If we compare when Gollum first got the Ring—TA2460s with when Marcho and Blanco crossed the Baranduin—TA1601—perhaps we should imagine that those left behind when the first settlers crossed the Misty Mountains were few and never developed the same levels of society which their cousins/descendants did in the Shire?) 
 If we had to construct a chronology from all of this, perhaps we might say that naming began with single (first) names, then, as communities expanded, a further identifying mark was added—maybe a nickname, like “Oakenshield”—or a patronymic, then the name of a place from which you came (think of all of those “de/di and “von/van” prepositions in the Romance languages and German/Dutch), or occupation—“Hornblower”--and we shouldn’t leave out a physical attribute, as in “Proudfoot” (which might have begun as a nickname—but stuck).  
 But I began with the “Name Game”, so I’ll give a try to a verse from the Shire to end this posting.  The “Name Game” song includes a verse which explains how to play--
“Come on ev'rybody, I say now  let's play a game

I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody’s name

The first letter of the name

I treat it like it wasn’t there

But a “B” or an “F”  or an “M” will appear

And then I say “Bo” add a “B” then I say the name

Then “Bo-na-na fanna” and “fo”

And then I say the name again with an “”f” very plain

Then  “fee fi” and a “mo”

And then I say the name again with an “M” this time

And there isn’t any name that I can’t rhyme.”



Bilbo, Bilbo, bo-bil-bo,

Bo-nan-na fanna, fo-bil-bo,

Fee fi mo-bil-bo, Bilbo!

As ever, thanks for reading.

Stay well,

Think about what the Name Game would do with your name,

And remember that, as always, there’s




I apologize for the weird type face shift. Two possibilities why this happened:

  1. it’s spring and my laptop has decided to go larking
  2. something happened when I copied “Teddy Bear” into the posting

For myself, I imagine that it’s #1.