Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NOTY History

Name of the Year started innocently enough: a few funny names from the world of sports tacked to a dorm-room door at an Ivy League institution in the fall of 1982. Herman VealDexter Manley.Cornelius Boza-EdwardsBaskerville Holmes (pictured). Hector Macho Camacho wouldn’t merit a second glance in today’s competitive naming environment—think football before the forward pass, two-handed set shots, Pong—but he was chosen as the first Name of the Year.

Two years later, off campus now, names were posted weekly on a wall near a Puff Basketball hoop. The end of the academic calendar brought a longer list of nominees, and the second NOTY: Godfrey Sithole.

Yes, we know that Sithole isn’t pronounced that way, not at least in his native country. Neither is Tokyo Sexwale, the 2001 NOTY, said the way you’d hope, nor 2005 nominee Sheila Dikshit, nor Falik Schtroks from the 1998 ballot. But therein lies a truism about NOTY: It’s not just the name; it’s the argument.

A good name is in the ear of the beholder (or the eye, in the case of creatively punctuated names, like I-Perfection Harris and Q’Beashable Scott). You like the cadence of Fidelio Tata. I prefer the poetic rhyme of Clinton Hinton. You think Largest Agbejemison is funnier than Borat. I’m an Excellent Raymond guy all the way. You cringe over Dick Surprise. I can’t stop laughing about Johnny Dickshot. History’s your game? Conan Freud. Geography? Paris London. Both? Cleopatra Egypt.

A good name generally has it going both ways, that is, the given name and surname have distinctive qualities. A good name should be unexpected. A good name can be ironic. A good name is what you want it to be. To the best of our knowledge—and we’ve been burned once or twice—all of the names we’ve discovered are real. We intend no malice in recording them. Hey, some of our names have been mocked, with reason.

In any event, after a few years of post-graduate wandering, NOTY in the late 1980s became an annual rite for a dozen or so men who gathered each spring to pick a winner (and play a drinking game involving the regional semifinals of the NCAA basketball tournament; never mind). Voting was open to friends and interested parties, whose ballots were accepted but not always tabulated. By 1992, enough names had been amassed to select a Name of the Decade.

Entering their thirties, the members of the NOTY Committee believed life had more to offer than names; the 1995 ballots are missing, or we didn’t vote that year, or something. Then we realized that the older we got, the more we needed to preserve our juvenile-seeming pastime. The watershed year: 1998. Faced with a tsunami of nominees, the High Commissioner of the NOTY Committee suggested turning the NOTY ballot into an NCAA-style bracket.

In the course of human events, has there been a more inspired, nay, seminal development? Some ballots have included 64 names, some a mere 32. We don’t play drinking games anymore, but the NOTY Committee continues to gather on the Friday of the NCAA regional semifinals in a city on the Eastern seaboard to select a winner.

Finally, while it took baseball seven decades to establish its Hall of Fame, it took us only two to create theHall of Name. Of the myriad names nominated over the years—easily well over a thousand, we guess--only 14 have been enshrined in the Hall since its formation in 2000. In 2006, tragically, two Hall members were kicked out in a scandal that rocked the NOTY community.

We’ve squandered untold, irretrievable hours of our lives nominating, verifying, seeding, voting for and wetting our pants over the likes of Anicet Lavodrama, Unique Wigfall, Babypaz de la Vega Jr., Drs. Jihad Slim and Barney Softness, Gay Straite, Courage Shabalala, Dick Trickle, Dudley Softly, Finesse Couch, La’keisha Laughinghouse, Attila Cosby, Maximum Havoc Steinberg, Dudu Chili, Asi Wind, Shula Hula and others so beautifully named. Now you can, too.