Insights - What's in a Name?


The presidential primary season generates lots of data releveant to decision making in the courtroom. Not only is the choice of candidate important, but what people think they know about a candidate is sometimes very interesting. We were fascinated to learn that when it came to one particular candidate, many people had become instant experts on etymology. John Stewart, of the Daily Show, had become an etymologist, along with Bill Maher, host of HBO's Real Time, and a host of other left leaning comedians. It wasn't just comedians who seemed fascinated with the origin of presidential candiate Rick Santorum's surname, but lawyers, judges and yes, potential jurors, all seemed to think they knew the origin, that is, the etymology of the former senator's surname.

So what did these instant etymologists spout with great confidence when asked: These otherwise highly educated and intelligent people spouted that the sir name Santorum "means a mixture of fecal matter and lube?" In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of you reading this still believe that the surname Santorum means just that. If you believe that, please accept my admonition that you are not ready to take your oral examination for your etymology degree. Permit me to publicly thank professor Thelma Lou Parks, my Latin instructor in high school, who gave all of us privileged to learn from her a distinct advantage when it came to understanding the origins or words and names. Students don't study Latin these days, but they know how to do a "Google search," and therein is part of the problem. First, here is the TRUE etymology regarding the Italian surname "Santorum." The former Senator's surname originated from the medieval first name Santoro, derived from the Latin word Sanctus = Saint, the genitive plural form is "Sanctorum", used also to indicate the All Saints feast. Possibly connected to someone acting as a saint, or who has connection with religious things (a sacristan). 1 So where does the fecal matter and lube come into this? Well, a man by the name of Dan Savage, a sex advice columnist who is a gay activist, decided that he did not like presidential candiate Rick Santorum's stance on homosexual marriage and his displeasure with the gay lifestyle. So Dan decided to reach into his personal experience and link a subject he knew something about, i.e., fecal matter and lube, with candidate Santorum. He posted this in his column and managed to link it to Google's search engine. What fascinated us during our research was the absolute arrogance with which our instant etymologists spouted their understanding of the meaning of the surname Santorum. No one had ever heard of Dan Savage and when asked a number of Socratic questions all designed to help them reason away their belief, they resisted with an equal measure of sureness. When we asked, for example, "do you really think that an Italian surname, given the influence of tradition and family to Italian culture, that anything so gross as fecal matter and lube would become associated with a family surname?" Our respondents didn't budge when asked that question. 1. Italy World Club/Italian sir names and genealogy.

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