Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Jack Smith

True, he might have been a she, but he isn't--a matter of some sniglificance, as a genderal rule

June 04, 1985|JACK SMITH

I had not intended to go into sniglets again, but an embarrassing error on my part obliges me to note one more.

A sniglet, as I have explained, is a word that is not in the dictionary, but should be.

To all those my readers have suggested, I must add one more:

Transexicognomentator.

I'm sorry to say it applies to me.

In a recent column I wrote as follows, concerning a sniglet for a person who has five pairs of reading glasses and loses them all at once:

"True Boardman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences suggests specsamnesia. (The victim of the condition, of course, would be a specsamnesiac.) 'Or perhaps,' she (sic) adds, 'since five pairs are missing, amnesiasquintus .' "

True Boardman, it turns out, has many friends and admirers, and several of them wrote to tell me that he is not only well known as a Hollywood actor, director and writer (and chairman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences documentary committee), but also as a male.

I have also heard from True himself:

"Another friendly suggestion for your sniglets collection--one to apply to the person who attributes the wrong sex to someone's given name. What about dubbing him a transexicognomentator ?

" Missnamer is another possibility, but, while being perhaps more specifically adaptable in this case, it's too close to misnomer , which is in the dictionary.

"In either case, Jack, you may wish to apply the term to yourself. For while I freely admit that it's true that True is often a woman's name, in my case it happens to be masculine. . . ."

Let me say here that, considering the enormity of my error, Boardman's rebuke is mild indeed. I deserved something more sarcastic and abrasive.

"Most certainly," he goes on, "you are not the first to ever make the mistake. Along with the Sidneys, Clares, Marions, Gales, Evelyns and Willies of the world, we Trues, whatever our ages, have known a lifetime of missnaming, or in the case of females, misternaming.

"It can begin in kindergarten, where the teacher on the first day, reading from her list of new pupils, says for an already scared and embarrassed boy named Hilary to line up with the other girls. And it goes on through the years--with a never-ending series of amusing and at times confusing mix-ups. . . ."

First, I must say that I was familiar with True Boardman's name, having heard it many times in one Hollywood context or another. Possibly I was lulled into my error by an old-fashioned notion that men are unfaithful, but women are true. Today, in this age of liberation, we know that women are no more likely to be true than men, and that their infidelities depend entirely on their opportunities and their inclinations.

On the other hand, thinking it over, True strikes me as an excellent name for a man, full of the kind of oaken virtues that Gregory Peck and John Wayne and Randolph Scott personified in those old Westerns. Those men were iron, and they were true.

In fact, I can't think of a name that more perfectly defines my own idea of myself--true to my principles, to my code, to my conscience.

Actually, I have always rather liked the male names that are also given to females. Certainly the name Hilary conjures up any number of British heroes, real and fictional. In British movies and novels Hilarys are always having affairs or being cuckolded or marching off to die in some stupid war.

Male Evelyns seem to have a literary bent. One thinks of Evelyn Waugh, who satirized his peers so cleverly. Waugh had not only one of the best prose styles but also one of the vilest tempers of his generation; I wonder if the latter could have derived from his being japed at in public school for being an Evelyn. I doubt it. The British don't seem so self-conscious about this nominal overlapping as we do.

According to "The Book of Names" by J. N. Hook, there seems to be a trend, especially in America, toward androgynous names (those that are suited to either sex).

"The feminist movement may be part of the explanation," Hook says, "abetted by approaches toward equality in the workplace, athletics and the home."

He points out that things were different in the old days. "Think, for example, of our early presidents and their first ladies: George and Martha, John and Abigail, Thomas and Martha, James and Dolley, James and Elizabeth. Maybe in the future we'll have presidential couples named Gerry and Kerry, or Beryl and Shelley, even Frankie and Johnny, and who can be sure which one will be the male?"

Certainly we have no doubts about Ronald and Nancy.

Among the most common two-way names today, he says, are Ashley, Beryl, Billie, Brook, Carol, Cary, Chris, Evelyn, Frankie, Gale, Gerry, Jan, Joyce, Kelly, Kerry, Kim, Kit, Laverne, Lee, Leslie, Lyle, Lynn, Marian or Marion, Marty, Merl, Nick, Paige, Pat, Shelley, Shirley, Stacey, Terry and Tracy, most of which have variant spellings.

I have never understood women's resentment of names derived from men's names. They are among the most beautiful in the language. Paula, Pauline, Roberta, Theodora, Simone, Karla, Joline, Gabrielle, Erica, Edwina, Frederika and Alberta. But of course men's names, as far as I know, are never derived from women's names; and perhaps that is the source of the resentment.

But I have to be more careful. The next thing you know I'll be calling Kelly Lange a he.

Heaven forbid.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|