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Words Sept. 21

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The given name “Tequila” apppeared in the paper the other day, about the same time as a correction regarding another article: “Madison County Clerk Faron Ledbetter is a man. A story in Thursday’s editions on a proposal for the state to hire county election coordinators incorrectly referred to him as ‘she.’ ”

People my age wouldn’t have made that mistake, because we remember a country singer from the ’50s named Faron Young and he too was a man. Seems like he had a nickname — The Singing Something Or Other — but I can’t remember it now. It would be relatively easy for someone today to mistake “Faron” for a woman’s name, I suppose. It’s not all that common. I’m guessing that “Tequila” is a woman.

Speaking of names male and/or female, Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner note in their book “Freakonomics” that many girls’ names started out as boys’ names — Leslie, Hilary, Stacy, Tracy et al — but girls’ names almost never cross over to boys. It’s a boys’ world, in that regard. This was part of a larger discussion of names and whether they determine or influence a child’s chances for success as an adult.

You pretty much have to read the book to understand their conclusions, but one arresting example they cite concerns a man who named a son “Winner” and a couple of years later named another son “Loser.” (Why he did this, and what Mom thought about it, we don’t know.) Loser went to prep school on a scholarship, graduated from college, joined the New York Police Department (a longtime wish of his mother’s), made detective and eventually sergeant. Although he never hid his given name, many people were uncomfortable using it. His police colleagues called him “Lou.”

And Winner? Now in his mid-40s, his most noteworthy achievement is “the sheer length of his criminal record: nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other mayhem.”

Leavitt and Dubner mention some of the more unusual names they came across in their research. The most unusual was stuck on a baby girl. Pronounced shuh-TEED, it’s spelled Shithead.


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