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Seeking a Glamorous Gertrude

“If you will call a dog Hervey,” said the English author Dr. Johnson, “I shall love him.” This quirky adage was meant to praise the unconventional Hervey family, whom Dr. Johnson found excellent company, but he also put his finger on an important truth, which is that the magic of a name doesn’t lie in the name itself, but in those who bear it. It’s the owners of the name that give it a glamorous aura, which is then passed on to others, even if they happen to be a dog. Like all magic spells, names must be spoken to take effect, and the more often we hear them, the stronger the power of their magic. Take, for example, my grandmother’s name: Edna. As a magic spell, Edna is quite dead. We rarely hear it spoken, and for this reason, most people would say the name sounds harsh and ugly. The abrasive “d” and “n” in the middle feel particularly unpleasant.