There was an article on the BBC website recently about the strange phenomenon of people whose names are similar to their professions in which the best example was Sue Yoo, a woman who - naturally enough - grew up to be a lawyer. Whilst, of course, in the olden days people were given names based on their job, like Mr Baker, it’s now suggested there’s a reverse effect at play and that some people enter a certain career because their name suggests it. True, it’s not a cast iron theory; after all, surely no one would spend thousands of dollars and many years in law school solely because of their name but, then again, perhaps people with such names become so resigned to jibes about them that they eventually just give in to it. If you were called, say, Randy Felcher you’d probably just accept your fate and gravitate towards the adult movie industry.
The idea of nominative determinism (as it is known) therefore appears to have some validity. But what about the more subtle ways in which the path your life takes can be influenced by the name you were given? What if, even if your name doesn’t immediately suggest a particular profession, it leads people to make certain assumptions about your character and personality and you somehow end up following them?
The wrestler Big Daddy, for example, was christened Shirley Crabtree, based on his father’s logic that having a girl’s name would lead him to being picked on and he would learn to stand up for himself. It worked and he subsequently become a famed hardman. But does a dull moniker like, say, Norman or Derek, mean you’re condemned to become an accountant or, at the very least, force you to change to something else in order to succeed in a more glamorous field? Would Sting have become a world famous rock star if he’d stuck with his birth name of Gordon? Similarly, if you’re given an exotic moniker does that automatically set you on the path to fame and fortune? Are there many town planners on Luton council called Orlando or Cornelius?!?
But now, with the sad passing of Sue Townsend, the creator of Adrian Mole, let us take a look at whether being christened Adrian prevents you from ever being cool. Does having a name that, thanks to a certain potato-faced TV presenter has become rhyming slang for haemorrhoids, prohibit you from ever being hip and automatically condemn you to a life of suburban mediocrity? Well, according to this list of the coolest Adrians in history, the answer is, surprisingly, a resounding ‘no’!
Whilst Adrian Mole is to many people the very personification of provincial mundaneness, a closer examination of his life throws up a surprisingly different picture. Less of a loser with the ladies than you might imagine, Mole was actually something of a playa and fathered three children by three different mothers (and whilst this wouldn’t mark him out as unusual on a Leicester council estate – hell, he’d probably have been looked on with suspicion if he’d had any fewer – we should bear in mind that one of his conquests was a member of Nigerian royalty). And even if he wasn’t able to interest publishers in his novel, Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland, you have to admire his ambition. Plus his ‘90s cookery, Offally Good, in which he conducted food experiments with, shall we say, less conventional ingredients, surely made him the precursor to Heston Blumenthal…
The villain of Alan Moore’s Watchmen may have assumed the name Ozymandias when he donned a mask to fight crime but whilst other superheroes tend to also have manly real names like Bruce Wayne or Brett Studley, his actual name was more suited to an accountant than someone whose achievements included building a huge business empire, being called the smartest man in the world and engineering a fake alien attack in an attempt to bring a peaceful end to the Cold War. Yes, he may be fictitious but that’s pretty good going for an Adrian, made up or otherwise.
Pope Adrian IV
Whilst there’s nothing very cool about being Pope, what with the funny clothes and having to spend your whole life condemning gay people to Hell and covering up kiddy-fiddling scandals, you’ve really got to hand it to this guy for managing it despite the double whammy of being English and being called Adrian, so even if you don’t normally have any time for religion I still reckon the guy deserves some respect. Still, he never truly escaped his Adrian-ness, as legend has it that he died by choking on a fly in his wine, which is hardly a very cool way to pop your clogs.
In a parallel dimension Adrian Borland is as well-known as Ian Curtis. Also the singer of a band coming out of the first wave of post-punk, Borland was frontman for The Sound, the great lost band of the ‘80s whose music was atmospheric, dynamic and grandiose yet melancholic and who, despite a string of acclaimed albums (their debut received five stars from both the NME and Melody Maker and their second was similarly praised), struggled to find much commercial success except in Holland. Borland killed himself by jumping under a train at Wimbledon station fifteen years ago this month, and you aren’t aware of the brilliance of The Sound, may your form of purgatory be that you’re chained to a rock and forced to listen to Editors and White Lies until the end of eternity.
Few people who enjoy watching the modern American incarnation of wrestling, with its steroid-addled warriors fighting in some Deep South enormo-dome whilst being spurred on by an army of mulleted, inbred trailer park dwellers, will be aware of its UK predecessor, from a time when no Saturday afternoon TV schedule was complete without some large men in leotards gut-barging each other around a ring whilst being watched by old ladies screaming at them. A current obsession of artist Jeremy Deller, Adrian Street combined the unlikely disciplines of wrestling and glam-rock, arguably influencing the highly theatrical version of wrestling that would follow. Despite coming from a family of Welsh coal miners, Street decided the best way to make his mark in the macho world of wrestling was to incur the wrath of both fans and opponents by not only kissing opponents prior to bouts but to seemingly base his look on Roxy Music-era Brian Eno.
Yes, he may now appear in Casualty or something and make documentaries where he travels around Britain tasting pork pies but let’s not forget his comedy heyday. For all the acclaim Woody Allen gets, I’ve never found his films funny, but Ade and Rik Mayall hitting each other with giant frying pans? Give me that every time! That’s comedy gold.
It’s true that Adrian Belew seemingly gets his hairstyle by taking a photo of Richard III to the barber’s and saying ‘cut it like this, please!’ but even his peculiar barnet isn’t enough to cancel out the coolness he’s earned by not only adding his unique brand of guitar weirdness to records by David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Talking Heads but by being the singer/guitarist for prog rock legends King Crimson for over thirty years. And to top it off, he wasn’t even born Adrian. He chose it as a stage name. Now don’t tell me that isn’t cool!