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Entries in baby names (2)


Cocking a Snook at Perfection


We have been pondering names that repeat and names that almost repeat.

Sirhan Sirhan is a perfectly repetitive name. José José and Fei Fei are repeating names too, as are Justo Justo, Miou-Miou, Rye Rye, Morris Morris, Morgan Morgan etc.

Then there are the almost-but-no-cigar repeating names such as Neil McNeil, Magnus Magnusson, Callum McCallum, Marky Mark, Jean Valjean and Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Jean Valjean of course is a name given by Victor Hugo to the fortisimo character in one of the half dozen greatest novels in the world: Les Misérables.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar is the name given to baby Belmokhtar in 1972 by Mr. and Mrs. Belmokhtar. This one has since been handed various sobriquets: The One Eyed, The Uncatchable and Mr. Marlboro, which also has a nice bit of repetitive swang to it. We kept an eye out for him when we were in Tuareg country in the Western Sahara in 2013 just as, we suppose, he kept an eye out for us.

We prefer these almost repeating names to the perfectly repeating ones since the imperfect repeating names embody an aesthetic of Japanese wabi-sabi. It is precisely because the names are not symmetrical that they are beautiful.

In some languages the repeating of a name, or near re-duplication, cloning, and doubling of a name-sound, serves a grammatical purpose such as plurality or intensification. There is some creative play here, where the duplication and re-duplication interruptus is used to make a wild contrapuntal audible universe. Repeat this aloud and hear your voice land upon melody: Llewellyn Crikey Llewellyn Boutros Haidar Boutros Haidar Bushy Bush Dogg Doggy Snoop Mgoeing Mgoeing Lipp Lippi Renzo Renzi Sven Sven boyo boyo bach. Can you feel some wabi-sabi rhythm in that?

Underplayed and modest

But wabi-sabi is essentially simple, slow and uncluttered. And we learn from the architect Tadao Ando that it reveres authenticity above all. "Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious."

Which brings us in a roundabout manner to thoughts on the role of the paid art critic, theorist and ontologist. This sounds like the kind of gig where life is just one big brain party after another, all the time repeating mongo mongo. For example, consider the words of the late art theorist Leone Vivante: "In a cosmos in which number and quantity seem overwhelmingly predominant, art reveals quality as ultimately real in the very actuality of consciousness." And so, he says, in his Essays on Art and Ontology: "A work of art does not turn or depend on anything else for its reality, because, I repeat, it is an immediate actualization and revelation of an inextricable nucleus of values absolutely inherent in a present origin or in an intimate activity or in form ..."

Is it possible that some things do not hold up well on repetition? Let me say in reply that I have never, I repeat, never, made a perfect painting. They are all wabi-sabi and all perfectly mondo, chibi chibi and jar jar jinks.


Also, I have a birthday coming up and there is wabi-sabi in that fact too, because the crevices on my visage are longer and more deeply beautiful than before. Though I think I am starting to catch a whiff of the pudding palace that awaits at the top of the hill.


UPDATE: June 2017 - There were reports that Mokhtar Belmokhtar met his end in 2013. Then again in 2015 this was repeated. Repeated again in late 2016. So if you repeat something often enough it starts to mimic truth.


(Top Image: Visite du Vigile/Visit of the Watchman 11x14 watercolours by David Roberts)



Kiss of Death

The Fire at St. Judes (11 x 14 w/c on Yupo)

Why don't parents name their newborn sons Judas anymore?


Experts say the top names for baby boys in 2019 are Liam, Noah, Elijah and Oliver.


Judas doesn't even make the Top 5000.


Why? Of course one could say it is self-evident that there's been a stain on that name since the moment Judas Iscariot laid a kiss of betrayal (now known as The Kiss of Peace) on the mug of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane a couple of thousand years ago. This led to Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion.


But is the slander against Judas justified? Should we, could we, rehab his reputation? Given his rep, if he were around today, no doubt the introductions would be awkward: 'Smithers meet Judas, he'll be watching your back tonight on the security detail.' Or 'Colleen, please help welcome Judas to the bank, he's our new custodian for the safety deposit boxes.' The issue is one of trust. Or mistrust. But hasn't enough time passed? Why should mere mention of a name conjure up such antipathy in the 21st Century? Should we continue to despise Judas, simply out of habit?



Judas was reportedly handed 30 pieces of silver to lead authorities to the outlaw Jesus. Yet there are scholars and critics who say the story of Judas's 'betrayal' is a complete fabrication, fomented by those who conveniently wished, inter alia, to foster anti-Semitism. As the critic Frank Kermode said: "Jesus was shopped, if you like. Somebody handed him over (betrayed him) and Judas was appointed to take the blame."


All we can really know almost for sure is that the story ended, seemingly, very badly for both Jesus and Judas. Resurrection notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine how it could have been worse, especially for poor Judas who appears to have been condemned to hell for all eternity. His name is mud, right up there with Hitler, Pol Pot, Bin Laden and Paolo Gabriele.


Now it has been some years since we stood at the bus depot in Jerusalem that looks up toward Golgotha, or Skull Rock, the reputed place of crucifixion, and equally long since we strolled among the twisted trees in the olive grove of Gethsemane.


Likewise it has been a long time since I was was a student at Drama Centre, London, (Group 13) but a more recent crop of actors there (Group 48) performed The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. This dramatic piece, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, is said to be an “exploration of our own betrayals, our own personal lapses of belief, and who we need to look to for forgiveness.”


Blue Moon

We'd have been fearful, in the Drama Centre of the 1970s, to tackle anything so weighty. We thought we were singularly racy if we put up a stark version of Garcia Lorca's Yerma, though it was more than passingly entertaining when Pierce Brosnan trotted out to sing a solo voce Blue Moon along the lines of The Mavericks.


Consider the fact that Judas once was a kid too. Had a mother. And a dad (Simon). There's no reason to believe he was, as a child, traumatized by being placed backwards on the potty, or that he was insane, or that there were any abnormalities about him that would warrant being handed the thankless job of helping deliver the Son of God to a nasty outcome (High Priest and Romans not off the hook). I can imagine his anguish and torment with his decision, pressured over dinner by the boss to accede. He accomplished his task perfectly well and was consumed by guilt over it. But there was enough blame, as it were, to go around. It was, variously, the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate and the Emperor Gluteus Maximus of whatever his name was, who also stand implicated. We don't hear about their anquish.


Which is the thrust of the 1996 book Judas, Betrayer or Friend of Jesus, by the late University of Manitoba religion professor William Klassen, who died in January of this year.


Klassen suggested poor Judas has received an exceedingly bad rap. Indeed if it wasn't for Judas, Jesus wouldn't have been able to fulfill his high purpose. In this romantic view Judas isn't a betrayer of the itinerant Messiah. He is a courageous accomplice - the most true and trusted friend of all. And the act for which Judas's name has been made mud is not a betrayal but is a deliberate handing over of the God-man divinely orchestrated by the holy kiss – all perfectly necessary for the Christian story to unfold.


Possibly it's a stretch to expect our friend Judas to occupy a spot in the Top 50 baby names.


But Klassen produced a worthy argument: to continue the slander against Judas points to an unseemly need for a psychological and theological scapegoat, one who assuages collective angst over the one big crucifixion, indeed all crucifixions, but who is a scapegoat nevertheless.


(Reader Note: I recently updated this piece, which first appeared on this blog in 2012).