Beyond Floyd and Egbert

My Search for the Most Unfortunate Name Is Over

I have strong opinions on names. Back in high school, I used to read baby name books with names like Beyond Jennifer and Jason and Beyond Sarah and Sam for fun, because I liked etymology and because I did not have a lot of friends. I believe there is a world of difference between Jewish boys named Alon, Elon, and Ilan. My book editor Lindsey and I knew we were in sync when we agreed that Zack with a “k” is douchier than Zach with an “h.”

I’ve been wondering for a while about the most unfortunate American name. Probably since I was eight and my dad and I amused ourselves on a cross-country flight by creating our own joke magazine called Doofus: The Magazine for Guys with Dorky Names. (I should point out that while my dad’s name is Mike, he was and still is an A/V geek, and he has been called a doofus and worse for a lot of his life.) Most of our names sounded like names out of a Far Side cartoon: Floyd, Egbert… But we never settled on a winner.

This past week, the wonderful Maris Kreizman got me thinking about Judy Blume., and that’s when it came to me.

It’s Ralph. The worst name is Ralph.

You know your name isn’t the most pleasant sounding word when it’s onomatopoeia for the sound of vomiting. It’s apparently on Judy Blume’s shitlist, because she gave the name both to the kid that threw up at Fudge’s birthday party in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and, more infamously, Michael’s penis in Forever. It’s also the name of one of the most pathetic Simpsons characters. Ralph Fiennes says he pronounces his name “Rafe” because it’s how they say it in Wales, but I think he just wanted to escape the baggage.

There are some positive associations: the name Ralph comes from Rađulfr, a combination of the Scandinavian words for “wolf” and “counsel.” While “wolf counsel” would be a pretty sweet name for a metal band, it doesn’t quite work when Anglicized. There’s also a grocery chain (made famous in The Big Lebowski and often referenced by my Night Vale friends), but “Ralphs” was the founder’s surname, and it’s easier to be more forgiving with clumsy surnames.

When I mentioned the name to my Doofus co-writer, my dad replied, “Yeah, I can’t think of a name much worse than Ralph,” and my stepmother chimed in to say “It sounds like a dog’s name.”

I’m sorry, Ralphs. It’s not to late to change your name to Raphael, which at least has some art history and ‘80s nostalgia cred. And if it makes you feel better, I have a name most of the English-speaking word doesn’t know how to pronounce, which means “criminal gang” in Spanish slang, and can mean “penis” in Japanese.

But Judy Blume never had a character name their penis after me. So you win. And lose.


Stuff I Did This Week: I talked about matzoh ball soup, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, and one of my first crushes on Smart Mouth Podcast!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: I’m Just Here to Do the Hoovering!