deep and inscrutable singular name

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

marimekko names

Translated literally, Marimekko means “Mary-dress”, but it has other connotations as well. Mekko is an old Finnish word that means “little girl’s dress” which suited the fresh, new look of Marimekko in 1951, while at the same time connecting to Finnish tradition. There is further resonance in the name: “Mari” is an anagram for “Armi”, thus linking the company closely to its charismatic founder, Armi Ratia. The depth of association of the company name extends to the names chosen for the fabric patterns and fashions. While many are straightforward, others defy translation. Some may have been chosen for their phonetic qualities or are deliberate misspellings that will be understood only by Finns as either humorous or old-fashioned. Others are in dialect or are old adages that may be unfamiliar today even to Finns. These will still have a phonetic impact or emotional content for most Finns, but probably not for others.

the naming of names

They came to the strange blue lands and put their names upon the lands. Here was Hinkston Creek and Lustig Corners and Black River and Driscoll Forest and Peregrine Mountain and Wilder Town, all the names of people and the things that the people did. Here was the place where Martians killed the first Earth Men, and it was Red Town and had to do with blood. And here where the second expedition was destroyed, and it was named Second Try, and each of the other places where the rocket men had set down their fiery caldrons to burn the land, the names were left like cinders, and of course there was a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York Town…

The old Martian names were names of water and air and hills. They were the names of snows that emptied south in stone canals to fill the empty seas. And the names of sealed and buried sorcerers and towers and obelisks. And the rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale, shattering the crockery milestones that named the old towns, in the rubble of which great pylons were plunged with new names: IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY, ELECTRIC VILLAGE, CORN TOWN, GRAIN VILLA, DETROIT II, all the mechanical names and the metal names from Earth.

And after the towns were built and named, the graveyards were built and named, too: Green Hill, Moss Town, Boot Hill, Bide a Wee; and the first dead went into their graves.

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

this one makes a lot of noise

She had seen the advertisement in the newspaper and had been immediately intrigued by the name of the person who had placed the advertisement. Who was this Mr Fano Fanope? It was an unusual name, but its musical qualities seemed very suitable for one who offered classes in “dance and movement, and the social skills that go with those things”. As to the name, Fano Fanope was a bit like Spokes Spokesi, the famous radio disc jockey. These names had a forward lilt to them; they were the names of people who were going somewhere. She reflected on her own name: Grace Makutsi. There was nothing wrong with a name like that — she had certainly encountered stranger names in Botswana, where people seemed to like naming their children in an individual and sometimes rather strange way — but it was not a name which suggested much movement or ambition. Indeed, one might even describe it as a safe name, a rather stodgy name, the sort of name that might well be held by the leader of a knitting circle or a Sunday School teacher. Of course, it could have been much worse, and she could have been burdened with one of those names which children then spent the rest of their days in living down. At least she was not called, as one of the teachers at the Botswana Secretarial College had been called, a name which, when translated from Setswana, meant: this one makes a lot of noise. That was not a good name to give a child, but her parents still did it.

Alexander McCall Smith, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

the secret of zumba

There is no doubt that Zumba Fitness owes its success in significant part to its name. The story goes that the company’s co-founders Alberto “Beto” Perez, Alberto Aghion and Alberto Perlman, aka “three Albertos”, were deliberately trying to find a name which rhymes with “rumba”:

Their first stumbling block came when they went to trademark Rumbacize, a play off Jazzercise and rumba, which means to party in Spanish. They discovered Rumbacize had been covertly registered by the owner of a fitness club where Perez taught classes. So the three Albertos went to a Houston’s restaurant in North Miami Beach and brainstormed.

“Bumba. Cumba. We said everything trying to find something that rhymed with Rumba,” Perlman recalled. “Wumba. That sounded like something for pregnancy.”

They were getting nervous. Nothing sounded right.

“Then we got to Zumba,” Perlman said. “That’s it. We were excited.”

A nice story, that. They had to go all way down the alphabet until the last letter did the trick. The Zumba Fitness’ Trademark Usage Guide goes as far as to claim that


The word ZUMBA® was coined by our company, and is an arbitrary or fanciful word we selected as the original brand name that identifies Zumba Fitness’ dance fitness programs and related products.

But did three Albertos really coin a new word? Of course not. They should have been well aware that there is a word zumba in Spanish. As a noun, it means “teasing”, “bashing”, or “beating”; zumba is also a form of the verb zumbar “to buzz”, “to hit”, “to tease”, “to nick”, or, surprise surprise, “to have sex”. Curiously enough, Zumba Fitness LLC urges us to never use the word “Zumba” as a noun or verb, only as an adjective. This is an absurd demand as it goes contrary to the already established usage. (“Are you going to Zumba?”, “Let’s Zumba” etc.)

But why is “Zumba” such a good name? I think the secret is that (a) it is short and (b) it is easy to pronounce. In particular, the sounds in “Zumba” are organised this way:


(where ⊏ stands for a consonant, ⊔ a vowel, and ⊓ a nasal consonant). This pattern pervades the names of music and/or dance styles such as banda, bomba, changa, conga, cumbia, danza, ganga, funky, landó, limbo, lundu, mambo, mento, punta, punto, rumba, samba, semba, songo, tambu, tango, timba, tumba and zamba, to name a few. So it is exotic and in the same time vaguely familiar. It has a jaunty feel about it. It sounds like a name of a cute animated creature: Bambi, Dumbo, Simba, Pingu, Rango

It is more important to be easily pronounceable than exotic. There is no need to travel far: we are literally surrounded by ⊏⊔⊓⊏⊔ words and names. Many languages, including English, favour them. There’s bound to be a neighbour called Cindy, Sandy, Mandy, Randy, Wendy or Monty. They eat candy or drink shandy. They talk about weather: it’s windy today, it will be rainy tomorrow. We like these words so much that we join them together in reduplications: hanky-panky, mingle-mangle, mumbo-jumbo, namby-pamby. It does not mean that if we like the name we have to like what the name stands for. (We may love pandas but hate mambas.) The reverse, however, is not true: the good cannot be given repelling name. (Even if Willy Wonka and his Oompa-Loompas annoy us, there is no way we’ll fall in love with Vermicious Knids.)

Fancy going to Zumba tonight? You can’t say “no” to that. Wanna try Bokwa? Not so sure. What about Piloxing? Definitely not, it’s a horrible word.

A handy property of a good name is its ability to form nicely sounding compounds and portmanteaux. I would argue that the conditions (a) and (b) are necessary although not sufficient. It comes as no surprise that ⊏⊔⊓⊏⊔ words are good at that. Examples include Mamborama (“mambo” + “panorama”), Sambadrome (“samba” + “-drome”), Tanghetto (“tango” + “ghetto”), Biodanza (this one is kinda obvious)… Here Zumba is doing well too: Zumbatomic, Aqua Zumba, Zumbathon, even Zumba Green (a colour which I call “toxic yellow”). Now imagine what would happen if they still were called Rumbacize.

de redonda a garrapatea

I’ve been starting (never finishing) to learn music a few times, in three different languages. Seeing that it’s an endless process, I thought I may want to write something down before forgetting how, er, those things are called. Or, at least, starting to write things down.

Today, I just want to look at these: ♩ or ♪ or ♫ or suchlike. They are often called “notes”, which is not strictly correct. On its own, any such symbol represents only a note value. The symbols themselves are what is called in French figures de note; I don’t know whether there is a good English equivalent. To represent actual notes, figures de note should be placed on a staff which has a clef on it. (Not today.)

Let’s have a look at the “note” anatomy first. At the very least, it has a note head, which usually (but not always) has an oval shape. All notes shorter than semibreve also have a stem. Finally, all notes shorter than crotchet have one or more flags. When several eighth (or shorter) notes appear next to each other, they may be connected with a beam (or beams).


English French Italian Russian Spanish
flag (hook, tail) crochet coda флажок corchete
stem hampe (queue) gambo штиль plica
note head tête de note testa головка cabeza

Now that we know the note parts, we can learn the note values. As you can see from the table below, both American English and Russian use rather boring terminology. Anyone who knows how to divide by two can master it in a minute. British English uses much more intriguing words. Take “crotchet”: it sounds very much like French croche. But croche is an Old French word meaning a “hook” (crochet in modern French), something that croche (♪) has but crotchet (♩) lacks. Then there is a quaver and its fractions: semiquaver, demisemiquaver, hemidemisemiquaver and even quasihemidemisemiquaver. Whereas in French system, the names for these just reflect the number of flags: double croche, triple croche and so on.

So far, my favourite system is the Spanish one. The names are short and easy to remember: redonda (round), blanca (white), negra (black), corchea (has a corchete, i.e. hook) and semicorchea (half of corchea). Except maybe for garrapatea (from garrapatear “to scribble”, “to doodle”), although the chances to encounter one are slim. Somewhat confusingly, Spanish fusa (1/32), which is derived from Italian word fusa (“purr”), is four times longer than Italian fusa (1/128).

Naming the rests in British English, Italian and Spanish is easy. You only have to add the words “rest”, “pausa di” or “silencio de”, respectively. In American English and Russian, replace “note” with “rest” (“нота” with “пауза”). French, however, came up with an amazing system where the rest names have nothing to do with the corresponding note names. For instance, seizième de soupir is rather unlike quadruple croche.

American / British English French Italian Russian Spanish
note note nota нота nota
whole note / semibreve ronde semibreve целая нота redonda
half note / minim blanche minima половинная нота blanca
quarter note / crotchet noire semiminima четвертная нота negra
eighth note / quaver croche croma восьмая нота corchea
sixteenth note / semiquaver double croche semicroma шестнадцатая нота semicorchea
thirty-second note / demisemiquaver triple croche biscroma тридцать вторая нота fusa
sixty-fourth note / hemidemisemiquaver quadruple croche semibiscroma шестьдесят четвертая нота semifusa
hundred twenty-eighth note / semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver quintuple croche fusa, quintupla o fusilla сто двадцать восьмая нота garrapatea o cuartifusa
rest silence pausa пауза silencio
whole rest / semibreve rest pause pausa di semibreve целая пауза silencio de redonda
half rest / minim rest demi-pause pausa di minima половинная пауза silencio de blanca
quarter rest / crotchet rest soupir pausa di semiminima четвертная пауза silencio de negra
eighth rest / quaver rest demi-soupir pausa di croma восьмая пауза silencio de corchea
sixteenth rest / semiquaver rest quart de soupir pausa di semicroma шестнадцатая пауза silencio de semicorchea
thirty-second rest / demisemiquaver rest huitième de soupir pausa di biscroma тридцать вторая пауза silencio de fusa
sixty-fourth rest / hemidemisemiquaver rest seizième de soupir pausa di semibiscroma шестьдесят четвертая пауза silencio de semifusa
hundred twenty-eighth rest / semihemidemisemiquaver or quasihemidemisemiquaver rest trente-deuxième de soupir pausa di fusa сто двадцать восьмая нота silencio de garrapatea

Orwellian, Sisyphean, Kafkaesque

If there was no truth, then there would be no meaning, and our life was Sisyphean. And if life were Sisyphean, then what point in continuing with it? She reflected for a moment on the list of bleak adjectives. Orwellian, Sisyphean, Kafkaesque. Were there others? It was a great honour to a philosopher, or a writer, to become an adjective. She had seen ‘Hemingwayesque’, which might be applied to a life of fishing and bullfighting, but there was no adjective, so far, for the world of failure and run-down loci chosen by Graham Greene as the setting for his moral dramas. ‘Greene-like’? she wondered. Far too ugly. ‘Greeneish’, perhaps. Of course, ‘Greeneland’ existed.

Alexander McColl Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club