September 3, 2008 Edition

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What's in a name

While researching my family tree one day I ran across a distant relative named Nimrod. Needless to say my first thought was who names a defenseless child Nimrod. I'm not sure I even knew it was a name. To me nimrod was just another way of calling someone dumb.

My curiosity was piqued so I decided to find out more about the name. It turns out that Nimrod is Hebrew and means mighty hunter. I definitely had a problem reconciling that to the current use of nimrod.

How does a name go from meaning mighty hunter to a word that means mighty stupid? It didn't take me long to find the culprit. It turned out I can blame none other than Bugs Bunny for Nimrod's fall from grace.

Bugs, who wasn't above a little sophisticated humor on occasion, often found himself in the gun sights of Elmer Fudd. Elmer is as inept a hunter as can be found and Bugs often referred to him as a poor Nimrod. Bugs was of course comparing him to the mighty hunter and his descriptive use of the name was inferring that Elmer was no Nimrod. For those who became fans of the cartoon somehow the name was eventually translated to mean dumb or stupid.

This information made me start thinking about how many names have changed their meanings or come to mean something much different than the owner of the name might ever have thought possible.

I don't know how many names have become associated with a thing or an idea that make them less than desirable but, bathroom humor aside, I imagine the descendents of Thomas Crapper wish he had been the inventor of something a little more highbrow than a flushing system for a toilet.

Speaking of that, there is also John Harrington who invented the water closet for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth. John, who was often the brunt of jokes about his invention has gone down in history as yet another term for a modern convenience none of us would live without.

Then there is Amelia Bloomer who was a women's rights activist in the mid 1800s. She was a remarkable woman who was a prolific writer and advocate for women. She is little remembered for all those deeds, but the term bloomers. However, lives on.

Thinking how much better women's lives would be if they had the same freedom of movement as men, she invented a sort of pantaloon which could be worn under a shorter skirt.

The Bloomer family may not have been prepared for the lasting association with a pair of ladies underwear, but that is what most people mean when they say I got a new pair of bloomers today.

Not every name is associated with underwear or bathrooms. There are also those whose names were reinvented, so to speak, as with Charles Moncke. What did Charles do? He invented a wrench that soon became known as none other than the monkey wrench.

I am sure my ancestor's parents never thought their son's name would be a word of ridicule someday. I can only hope that most of us fare better than poor Nimrod.

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