Satire by Barry Silverberg
In many cultures the giving of names to children is of major significance. The name defines the person. This true for Jews in the bible and Jews today; It holds true for many native American tribes as well. If by chance you ever visit any of the island countries of Earthsea, you will be introduced to people by their 'use name' for their true name is shared only with their closest loved ones. Admittedly, Earthsea is a fantasy world in the novels of Ursula K Leguin, but if you've read any newspaper lately, you'll agree with me that what we're living in must be a fantasy of somebody, much less talented and much crueler than Ms Leguin. My article shows some bizarre examples, taken from my years in Kiriat Shmona, of names that were given and what happened to the people who got them.
'A good name is better than good oil,'
'Of course, if you are frying falafel, you see things differently.'
Shimmen ElGreasy, falafel seller, Kiriat Shmona
Those of you who studied literature may recall that
onomatopoeia - n. means 'the use of words that are formed from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle, kvetch, baarf).'
In addition, Onomatopoeia was always one of those words that I consistently misspelled on my term papers (which had titles like: 'Use of the Sizzle in Jane Austen's Early Novels,' or 'Shakespeare Goes Cuckoo,' 'Animal barf sounds as Structure in Heart of Darkness.' It was not until the onset of the spell checker that I was I able to render it - that word - accurately onto the page.
I attended Bar Ilan University, where we blissfully studied English literature in the English Literature Department, as was fitting, until they let the linguistics people in; that is, until the linguistics people pushed their way in and it was everybody- out- of- the- pool, and no more getting away with papers about sizzling cuckoos in nineteenth century novels.
Those of you who teach English but had nothing to do with Bar Ilan and its hiring policies in the late seventies still feel its effects of those changes, because the new guard of those days is partly responsible for the English Curriculum, which many people still call the 'New' curriculum, that is in force today.
But to get back to onomatopoeia. I was living -- and living it up -- the student life in a place called Kiriat Ono, and I was quick to point out that ono-mat-opoeia was the sound that people made there before death, upon realizing what a mistake they had made with their lives.
* (Pirchey Avos: My wickedpedia defines it as A frum boys choir, later disbanded under a cloud)
In the fall of '82 we, as I was now a couple rather than a single, moved to Kiriat Shmona, where we soon encountered a new phenomenon unknown among the literary devices we had learned in our youth.
When we went to have spare keys made for our new apartment, they sent us to the locksmith, who went by the name of Mr. Sigron(=Closure). We found this most amusing, but nobody saw this as noteworthy, not even when he admitted that his given first name was Shmarya (God's Guardian, or Guard Yah ). Shmarya Sigron. With such a name, his choice of profession was dictated by fate.
It was only a day or two later when, in our new Amidar apartment, we discovered that the sewer was blocked up, presumably by the workers who had performed unnatural acts on the plumbing as they were getting the building ready. We were given a number to call: Mr Fartook, who arrived with his odorous paraphernalia and soon had things working smoothly. Fart-took indeed. We began to see a pattern.
Our first Shabbat; where can we get quality meat for a good price? Why, the Salamey brothers, of course. Ameet and Yameat Salamey. And so it went. Falafel was sold by ElGreasy, and his sister did your hair. The school cleaning lady was a Mrs Spongein. Our house was broken into, and they caught him: Mr Gozzlan! There was An-Korr -- air conditioner repair. El Grebbli, sells socks. Barrak, electrical supplies. Ifat Belly-li gives instructions in weight watching, but never fits into anything smaller than forty- eight herself.
Mr Yair Hazoot, a middle aged man of some education, may have been destined for higher things in life, but is condemned to a life of collecting trash for the santiation department, which in Hebrew is called Hazzut Ha-ir. And poor Hermann Boz-orgi, though a pious gent by nature and choice, was destined to run the sex boutique across from Egged.
It is common knowledge that many names derive from the family's profession in a village of long ago: Katsav, Gabbai, Hazzan, Turjeman, Soffer, Tinker, Taylor and so on, but this was something else: People in this town seemed to be fated to act out a life dictated to them by their given names, totally unaware of the fact.
We named this phenomenon shematta-mattpoeia.
For a while, we were quite excited. If we could prove a widespread local trend, perhaps it would mean a feature for National Geographic, or at least National Geographic Lampoon earning us enough money to move out of the Amidar apartment. And so, we soon joined the political excitement that was high in those days, as a young man by the name of Prosper was running for mayor, hoping to overthrow the old guard. And at first, it looked like Prosper was Prospering and while his rival, Aloney, would be left all Alone-y.
But before the elections were over, our first son was born. I expectantly scanned the phone book for the ideal Mohel we boys used to joke about in Hebrew School: The esteemed Doctor I Katchapekkeroff . He was not to be found. We settled on a Rabbi Shushan, who did a fine job, though he didn't shan shoes on the side. Then we met Mr Glida-ee (=ice cream), who taught math and didn't sell ice cream. Evidently, Shmatta-mattpoeia was not across the board. We met several Coccoon families, but they haven't produced any butterflies. The Hasin (=proof, as in Hassin Mayim, waterproof ) clan is just as vulnerable to accidents and katyushas as anybody else. And our towns all time winner for most wonderful name of all, Mrs Fanny Groper, was never seen to molest a child in the swimming pool. She was just a grouchy old lady who lived up the block.
As for the municipal elections of our first year in town, well, Alone-y was left all aloney but that's as far as it went. Not then, nor anytime later in the quarter of a century we have been here, did the city Prosper. Prosper lasted almost two 'Kaddenseeot,' until he, one fine day, just looked at the mess he had made of the place and walked off. The 'new' mayor, who was a shoe- in about 8 year ago and didn't do much better, is named Barbie-Buy. He's wasted a lot of money but not on plastic dolls. As I write this, he has just been convicted of mishandling public funds or something similar, so it's By, By Barbie. Ironically, when Ulmert first put together his government, Barbibai was refused a postion. I assume that merely 'awaiting trial' was not enough to qualify, and now, there shouldn't be any obstacle. I only hope that he is spared the fate of another local who tried to make it good in the big city-Mr Gino. I saw his name on a plastic bag recently, advertizing the shop "Gino Underwear." Maybe it sells coats for flashers.
Barry Silverberg, Kiriat Shmona, Pe-sah, Tash- sah,
PS: Were we affected at all by Shmatta-mattpoeia? We haven't prospered much either, even though our name is Silver-berg. Still, we have 5 wonderful kids, steady work, a house lawn, a superlative view, and lots of pictures of them, so we can fill album after Album after Album (my wife's name).
A PET PLAYS ON THE SILVERBERG LAWN
OVERLOOKING KIRIAT SHMONA / Late October, 2007