The rhythm of names

I used to struggle to remember which was which — Thor Heyerdahl and Dag Hammarskj√∂ld. One was a great globe-hopping Norwegian adventurer. The other was a great globe-hopping Swedish diplomat.

The problem, I think, was the rhythm. As a kind of verbal music, the two names sounded nearly identical to me.

The names of other famous people also share this same rhythm, including the actor George Hamilton, the animator Jan Pinkava, and the futurist Hans Moravec. I am sure you can think of lots of others as well.

The rhythm of names is a subject that many people find endlessly to be endlessly generative. Lin-Manuel Miranda, to cite one example, constructed an entire rap musical around the rhythm of the words “Alexander Hamilton”.

Not that he was the first to do so. Back in 1952, my favorite songwriter of them all, Frank Loesser, found enough music in the name “Hans Christian Andersen” to build an entire songbook.

Now that I think of it, I probably got on this subject because last night I rewatched Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls”, an absolute masterpiece. I had forgotten how Frank Sinatra’s character casually slips into Yiddish during one of my favorite songs.

You should catch it while it is still on Netflix. It is an immensely enjoyable way to spend an evening.

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