Seen earlier this year in Charlottesville, Virginia, on myth-strewn terrain where Jefferson and Lafayette had once striven for liberty, was a chalk mural commemorating George Carlin, the late satirist whose birthday had come around again. The brooding portrait was applied to the free speech wall near City Hall, and stood mute witness to the times — before vanishing in the spring rains. The legend on the upright slate slab called out in the night to the Keeper of the Seven Words :
_ HAPPY 75th ~
May 12, 2012 __
. We miss you
– . George !
George in halcyon days
Has the name GEORGE ever been taken seriously (pāce glorious Saint George himself) ?- Despite its having served to christen a triumphal parade of recent American Presidents and Hanoverian Kings (or, to some minds, because of that fact), the name has retained throughout Anglophony the faintly ridiculous reputation it earned as borne by the likes of gluttonous Prince George of Denmark (Royal consort of “Brandy Nan”). George was also the humiliated hubby of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (characters whom Edward Albee named for an iconically gallant President and his lady wife).
In his memoir Last Words, George Carlin reminisced about how his mother chose his name for him –
Now, there was “George Sand”, the nom de plume of Chopin’s formidable mistress and the authoress of Indiana. But her reasons for adopting the saintly appellation may have little to do with the prerogatives of dynastic despots and Anglophone onomastics. As we read in Elizabeth Harlan’s account of Madame George Sand’s life :
Some twenty-five years after changing her name, George Sand explained in her autobiography that she chose the name George fast and spontaneously, because in the provincial Berrichon dialect that was commonly spoken in the region where Aurore was raised, the word george, via the Latin georgias, meant “husbandman” or “farmer”.
Underlying this association is another, even more intriguing possibility, one that Sand never acknowledged but that, in light of what we know of her trouble-making history as an adolescent, might have unconsciously informed her choice of name. In Berrichon the word georgeon means “devil.” According to legend, anyone who so much as pronounces or writes the word risks becoming bedeviled. It is easy to imagine the young Aurore, plume in hand, tempting fate by scribbling the first few letters of the taboo word and stopping just short at “George.” Perhaps her chosen name was a nod to her days at convent school when she banded with the group known as “the devils.” That Sand chose to drop the final s of the traditional French spelling of Georges in favor of the English spelling reinforces the association with this earlier adolescent experience.
Incidentally, you may tell your favourite barkeep that the etymology of George in its standard usage is Greek :
<Γεωργιος (Georgios) < γεωργος (georgos, “earthworker”) < γῆ (ge, “earth, soil”) + ἔργον (ergon, “task, work”).