Monday, November 21, 2011

Train of thought

You've heard of a person making a name for themselves, but sometimes the name makes a person for itself as well. There are cases where a name seems bizarrely appropriate for a person who you associate with a particular profession. (And I'm not really talking about Aptronyms, such as Alan Ball, Lloy Ball and Michael Ball, all either footballers or volleyballers).

No, I'm thinking about public figures with public names, like politicians; I'm thinking of names like Hawke and Menzies that seem to be descriptive of whole character traits, names as good or better than you'd get in novels. In some cases, it's true, the names seem to have more character than the politicians. (Not always - Bob Brown, for better or worse, has much more character than his name). But really: how good would a novelist have to be to come up with names like Gillard and Abbott for their two main roles, that of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader? Or have a side player like Katter running around? 'Gillard' is eerily reminiscent of the French device for capital punishment; 'Abbott' shows how the Opposition leader just can't get away from the ecclesiastical references even if he wants to; and 'Katter' bespeaks both a certain wildness, and a certain pliability about the man.

There used to be a chap in politics in New South Wales called Richard Face. I can find bugger all about him, but, as was pointed out to me years ago, what a name 'Face' is for politics. Just think of all the headlines he could have inspired: 'Losing Face'. 'Who is behind Face'? 'New Face for a New Cabinet', and so on. On the face of it, Mr Face didn't seem to have been such a bad fellow after all.

Then there's the triumvirate of independents and a Green who are keeping the ALP in power - Oakeshott, Windsor, and Bandt. 'Bandt' is the easiest to interpret; it slips easily into a narrative about the Greens, happy to ban anything and everything they disagree with. 'Oakeshott' is a better name, I think - if anything, that name is cunningly deceptive: you think of terms like 'shot his bolt', or 'that oak is shot', making you think of somebody who is basically useless, or of a person who makes a rapid appearance and then runs away. Maybe those ideas will turn out to be true, but if anything, he's a guy that can be very long-winded, almost pointlessly so (here's the evidence, which of course you shouldn't bother watching.) Kerryn once observed of Oakeshott's 'decision' speech that it was a moment all Australians would remember, like the Dismissal. I agree with that actually - I remember exactly where I was when Oakeshott was making his speech. I was at lunch, and when I came back he still hadn't finished.

'Windsor', too, is an excellent name; it is positively saturated in hauteur and patrimony. That seems to describe the man fairly well, though it doesn't quite explain why he's in politics. About the only impression I've got of Tony Windsor is of a man who lies in a fairly opportunistic manner, and usually gets away with it; if that is the case, maybe you the first syllable of 'Windsor' is descriptive: a man who is full of wind, who is windy, who is a windbag... but I know very little about Windsor, apart from the fact that he will probably be retiring very soon, and who is probably very rich as well.

The Opposition has some beauties as well, at least metaphorically. Much was made, years ago, of the pun 'Abbott and Costello', when there was a court case involving then Treasurer Peter Costello, and Tony Abbott. The Coalition has not only an Abbott, but two Bishops - Julie Bishop, and the alliteratively splendid Bronwyn Bishop. And you can't ignore Malcolm Turnbull - certainly Turnbull himself doesn't, for I think it was from him that the quip 'Turnbull in a china shop' first came from. You also automatically think of terms like 'Turncoat', 'Bullish', 'Bullshit', even 'Burnt Tool' - there's a lot of character in that name alone.

This might all seem about as significant to the running of politics as reading the tea leaves, and it is. On the other hand, maybe there really is something in a name - something to live up to, or something to live down to, or something to get away from.

Of course, this is coming from someone who was a teenager when a certain Neal Blewett was almost constantly in the news. Every time I heard his name, I would comment, 'Aw, Neal blew it again!' So feel free to attach that amount of significance to all the comments above.

This Train of thought is over.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Tim for adding a new word to my lexicon, although aptronym seems an inelegant and unimaginative word. Harold Holt's name was certainly appropriate since he both abruptly came to a halt and, with him, the nation. What do you make of Gough Whitlam?

TimT said...

Anything I make of Gough probably pales into insignificance compared to what Gough makes of Gough.

I can't find it on YouTube, but once I did see a 1974 election ad that started and proceeded in quasi biblical tones: "In the beginning... there was... GOUGH."

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