MAD DOG: Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Your Name, Well, It Could Kill You

The first thing parents should be told when handed their newborn baby -- right after "Congratulations! You'll spend more to raise this child to the age of 19 than the gross national product of a Third World country" -- is to be careful what they name it.Most people choose their children's name very casually. They pick something they like, often a name that honors a dead relative, a revered historical figure, a character on Beverly Hills 90210, or their favorite endangered waterfowl. Well you'd better think twice if you're in that position, because a name has more to do with how someone turns out than all the genes in their little finger. That's right, your personality, career path, and chances for happiness are all right there in those randomly chosen letters.Think about it. Presidents are named Bill, George, Jimmy, and Dick. Stock brokers are named Chip, Biff, Sarah, and Stephanie. Any of them can be named unindicted co-conspirators. Many, in fact, are.I hate to be the one to break the news, but the odds of seeing a President Tammy or a Prime Minister Keanu in our lifetime is about as good as Jim Carrey playing Laura in a film version of the Glass Menagerie. True, there's a Newt and Alcee and Steny running around Congress, but what would you expect from a governing body that tried to turn Lake Champlain into a Great Lake?"So where's the proof?" you're probably asking as you hope and pray that even though your parents named you Chernobyl your life doesn't have to be a bomb, but could instead be a blast. Well, we have it. In an announcement at the meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (motto: "Act up again and you'll think you're Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest") a team of researchers reported that people with "good" initials live longer and are less likely to commit suicide or die in an accident than those who have "negative" initials. It kind of makes you proud to be a taxpayer, doesn't it?After studying 5 million California death certificates, these dedicated scientists from the University of California at San Diego discovered that men with initials like WOW, GOD, and JOY live longer than those with initials that spell things like PIG and BUM. Why this happens is unclear, though the researchers think that years of being unmercifully teased at school about having initials that spell ICK and YUK take their toll on a person's self-esteem, and we all know that low self-esteem is the #1 killer of people with lousy initials.So if initials can have an impact, what do you think a name can do? A lot. Some names are pure fate-in-waiting. Don't you think Jay R. Titsworth was supposed to be the president of Jantzen Swimwear when they released their bust-enhancing swimsuits a few years back? And did it shock anyone in Pisgah, Maryland when Alonda Ann Hoe was arrested on charges of prostitution? Of course not.Other names appear benign but aren't. Take the dreaded Jones Curse. In Jonesboro, Arkansas a 13-year-old boy opened fire at school, killing four students and a teacher while injuring 10 others. At the same time, President Clinton was spending his second term in office in a constant state of possible indictment thanks to ... yes, Paula Jones. And if these allegations are true, it will substantiate that Clinton has a sexual jones, but of course we won't know for sure until we see it on tomorrow's edition of Jenny Jones.Not convinced? In 1978 the 900 followers of Jim Jones Kool-Aided themselves to death at the People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. Then there's the questionable death of Rolling Stones guitar player Brian Jones, the questionable origin of Grace Jones, and the questionable alumni of Bob Jones University. Not to mention all the people who don't question the Dow Jones average, which has been anything but average lately.The real question is: If you're saddled with a bum name or initials, is there anything you can do to stop this? Sure, change it. Paula Jones got married and changed hers -- right along with her hair, her lawyer, and her story -- and so far she's gotten farther along with her lawsuit than anyone else, including Kenneth Starr, who's been preoccupied trying to convince people he's not Ringo's brother.A couple of years back Chithrabhuna Koodalattupuram changed his name to Chith Puram for obvious reasons ("I'd like to sell one of my vowels back to you, Vanna!") and Jeff Gillooly changed his name to Jeff Stone in the hopes that no one would remember him when he got out of prison. See? It worked.Gillooly, to jar a memory you probably tried hard to suppress, was the mini-mind behind the kneecapping of Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan. Right before getting out of prison -- oddly enough for the kneecapping and not for having the incredibly poor judgment to have married Tonya Harding -- he petitioned the court to change his name to Jeff Stone.Although this sounds like your simple everyday name change, poor Gillooly had to put up a fight before being awarded the new moniker. First a genuine Jeff Stone testified that it would be a slur on his good name. Then Paul Peterson, who portrayed Jeff Stone on the Donna Reed Show ("I'm not really Jeff Stone, but I played one on TV"), complained that it would be an affront to the purity and sanctity of 1960's television. They lost. Gillooly -- I mean, Stone -- won.The lessons here are simple. Think hard before naming your children. Avoid names with initials that aren't allowed on vanity license plates. Don't marry ice skaters. And above all, beware of anyone or anyplace named Jones. Especially if your name is Bill Clinton.

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