Punny names, weird names, and everything in between

Published 4:17 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

Pretty much everything has a name. It’s essential to how we identify who and what we interact with in our lives. But despite its importance, names can often be a source of humor as well, thought it may or may not be intentional.

I love writing about this topic, as there are so many names out there that make me smile and laugh (particularly if there’s a good pun involved too). So here’s a hodgepodge of musings on the subject:

I recently read an article from AP News about Minnesota’s fourth annual “Name a Snowplow” contest. This year’s winner was “Taylor Drift,” which is, of course, a play on the name of the famous singer, Taylor Swift. (It seems we cannot escape any mention of her in the news these days!)

I really liked several of the other finalists in the contest too, including Clark W. Blizzwald, Dolly Plowton, Beyonsleigh, You’re Killin’ Me Squalls, Fast and Flurrious, and Barbie’s Dream Plow. Some previous winners include Darth Blader and Blizzard of Oz.

I’m sure it’s funny to see a snowplow pass by with the name “Barbie’s Dream Plow” emblazoned on its side. (Too bad they probably didn’t give it a new pink paint job too though.)

Minnesota isn’t the only one that names their snowplows, of course. I wrote a whole column back in 2021 about the Scottish tradition of naming their snowplows (called “gritters” over there) with funny names. They’ve been doing this since 2006. You can even track the snowplows online to see which streets your favorites are clearing!

The Scottish plow names are just as punny as the ones in Minnesota. Some of my personal favorites include Sir Salter Scott, Spready Mercury, Snow-be-gone Kenobi, Gritty Gritty Bang Bang, and Mary Queen of Salt.

Scotland also had one plow named Fred. That’s right, just Fred. It’s funny in its simplicity.

Switching gears (ha ha!) for a moment, another place that often finds itself inundated with interesting names is the music industry.

One semester in college, I worked at the university’s radio station and we had quite a large collection of alternative rock to choose from. The most memorable band name was “Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head.” They weren’t affiliated with the actress herself, and they’ve since changed their name. But I will definitely never forget them.

My brother once tried to recommend me a band named “King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard” which is a very exciting name, but I always get the order of the words mixed up because they all rhyme. Fun fact: their name contains twice as many Z’s as ZZ Top!

I always find it funny (but also a bit irritating) when bands choose names that are downright impossible to Google search because the words are too common. Like “Yes” and “The Band” or “Chicago.” There’s a Japanese band that’s been around for several years now called “News.” You can’t find any information about them unless you add “Japanese band” after the name, and even then, you might get some generic news results about Japanese bands in general.

Actually, the talent agency which manages News even went through a name change recently themselves. The company was originally called “Johnnys and Associates,” after the founder of the long-running talent agency. He passed away a few years ago, but allegations of his unsavory history of assault got a lot of attention last year. So the company opted to change the name so they wouldn’t be associated with him anymore.

Since October 2023, however, their Twitter account is still called “New Name Coming Soon.”

So I guess no one can decide what the new name should be? (Or maybe no one told the intern running the account??)

But I’ll admit that naming things can be quite difficult. I know that whenever I’m writing a story, it’s so hard to figure out what the characters’ names should be. Do I just pick a name at random? Mash up some words that sound cool? Name the characters after famous people? There are so many options!

Sometimes, I’ll be watching something and it feels like all the characters were named by a random name generator because they’re so weird.

Mobile Suit Gundam (a popular anime franchise spanning multiple series that’s been around since the 1970s) is my favorite example of this. Just recently, I watched the “Turn A Gundam” series and was delighted by strange names such as Gavane Goonny, Sweatson Stero, Meam Midgard, and Agrippa Maintainer. I feel as though the writers simply flipped through a dictionary and picked the first words they saw.

My favorite Gundam names, however, come from a different series: Iron-Blooded Orphans. There’s a prominent supporting character in that show named Biscuit Griffon. His two little sisters are named Cookie and Cracker. Their grandmother is Sakura Pretzel. And their older brother is Savarin Canele. (Savarin is a kind of snack food too, though not as obvious as the others.)

Anyway, this is a generally serious show overall, but the names really make me laugh.

Lastly, names can cause people trouble every now and then if they’re difficult to pronounce.

The North Carolina Museum of History once shared a pronunciation guide for some towns across the state which might be hard to say if you’re not from around here.

Some of those oddly-pronounced towns included Fuquay-Varina (FEW-kway vuh-REE-nuh), Bahama (buh-HAY-ma), Corolla (kuh-RAW-luh), and everyone’s favorite: Conetoe (ka-NEE-tuh)!

Some other names on that list might be familiar to those of us who grew up in northeastern North Carolina such as Chocowinity (CHOCK-uh-WIN-uh-tee), Norlina (nor-LIE-na), and Manteo (MAN-tee-oh or MAN-ee-oh… I always use the second one).

And did you know that Ahoskie also made the museum’s list? I never knew that was a hard one to say??

All in all, I think names can be a fun topic to talk about. What are your favorites?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.