Monday 23 April 2012

Wherefore art thou Quentin?

When I first aired my theory about the reasons for the popularity of 'JB' as initials for action heroes, a friend pointed out that not everyone with those initials is heroic, his prime example being Jim Bowen.

In real life, people often lack the nominal suitability of fictional characters - the real James Bond, after all, was an ornithologist.  Stephen Fry once pointed out that if Noel Edmunds were a fictional character (and there's a pleasant thought), no author would have given him that first name.  A few years ago, I'd have said the same about Quentin Tarantino but, as time has gone by, the tension between the two elements has come to seem more and more appropriate for his odd combination of badassery and nerdishness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of people whose names suit them perfectly includes a few cultural icons.  Orson Welles, with its suggestions of 'awesome' and 'swell', is ideal for a man whose genius was constantly brought down by grandiosity, in several senses of the word.  Similarly, it's fitting that Brian Eno, the music business' presiding intellectual, should have a name that combines an anagram of 'brain' with a surname that sounds like a technical device, or medicine.  The fact that his middle names are Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle is just a bonus - Eno, like Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, sometimes seems like a person whose exuberant nature was determined at the font.

My two favourite examples of real people with well-chosen names are less illustrious.  Nicholas Parsons, with its surfeit of syllables, is the ideal name for a generous, slightly befuddled quizmaster, not least because of its suggestion of minor clergy losing their underwear, like an image from an unusually frank Whitehall farce.

By contrast (and it's a demonstration of how much difference an abbreviation can make) Nick Bateman, villain of the first series of Big Brother, seemed predestined for that role by both his first name, evocative of both Machiavelli and the Devil, and a surname that suggested one who lays a trap, as well as American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, itself a hint of his eponymic ancestor, Norman Bates.

Margot Asquith said of Lord Kitchener that, if not a great man, he was a great poster.  Bateman was a C-list celebrity with an A-list name.

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