Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Name's the Same

Tautonyms are zoological terms for animals in which the genus and the species names are the same: Rattus rattus (black rat), Vulpes vulpes (red fox), Bison bison (American bison), and the self-explanatory Gorilla gorilla, for examples.

People can have tautonyms as well.  I’m thinking of the baritone Thomas L. Thomas, who was famous on the Voice of Firestone in the 1940s and 1950s.   Then there’s actress Evans Evans, who was in the movies Bonnie and Clyde and The Iceman Cometh

Both of them are of Welsh descent, as was James James, the 19th century harpist who composed the Welsh national anthem.  Welsh (as well as Scottish and Irish) names lend themselves to tautonymy owing to the frequent use of patronymics—given names derived from the name of the father or a paternal ancestor.

Martin Martin was an 18th century Scottish writer famous for A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland. An Irish counterpart, Henry Henry, was a 19th century Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor.

And then, there’s Lang Lang, the spectacular young pianist, whose double name is actually two different Chinese words that are pronounced slightly differently and mean “brilliant man.”

Two British writers who were contemporaries—Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) and Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927)—also had tautonymic names, but they didn’t come by them honestly.  Jerome’s father, an ironmonger and non-conformist minister, was originally named Jerome Clapp, but for reasons best known to himself, he changed his name to Jerome Clapp Jerome, which also became his son’s name.  The younger Jerome, perhaps to distinguish himself from his father, changed his own middle name from Clapp to Klapka; hence the middle initial K. He is best known for the comic narrative Three Men In A Boat.

Ford, whose fame rests on the novel The Good Soldier, was born Ford Hermann Hueffer, but changed it after World War I because it sounded too German.

“Mutual Problem” is a bit of whimsy by William Cole, who seems to want to challenge the Bard of Buffalo Bayou for poetic primacy. Oh well, let him:

            Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,
            'There's something, old boy, that I've always abhorred:
            When people address me and call me 'Jerome',
            Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?'
            Said Ford, 'I agree;
            It's the same thing with me.'           
The Bard couldn’t resist adding this flourish:

            Said Thomas L. Thomas to the sprightly Lang Lang:
            “Is your name pronounced like ‘bang’ or like ‘bong’?”
            Lang Lang then snorted to Thomas L. Thomas:           
            “You tell me first if you’re Comus or commas.”


  1. Wonderful examination of tautonyms. Strange things capture a young boy’s attention, and for me it was the curiosity of an author having the same given name as his surname. Holling Clancy Holling has the strange beauty of a harsh Irish name bookended by two action words, or gerunds.

    1. Holling is a new name to me, but I'll add him to the list. Welcome to my blog. Hope you'll enjoy my postings, which are generally on Mondays.