In Praise of NPR Names, or The New American Nomenclature

We’ve already heaped plenty of praise on NPR’s Chana Joffe-Walt, not necessarily for her name — which is definitely gnarly — but because she’s so damn good at what she does. Anyway, The Atlantic looks at the unusual and awesome names of NPR correspondents:

But can you still make it in the radio business with a plain name? Robert Smith of Planet Money told me by email that the only reason to change his name “would be so that I could be more famous. You would remember it better if I ended by reports with, ‘I’m Mobius Tutti.'” But at the same time, he says, “I’m in this business to tell other people’s stories, and not to promote myself or my own name. Being a Robert Smith is always a good reminder that you aren’t that different than the people you cover.”

And really, are NPR names so different from yours and mine? “It’s simply that you don’t hear the staff at Kinko’s saying their names over and over again, out loud,” Smith says. “Kinko’s was founded by Paul Orfalea. If he had said, ‘Paul Orfalea, NPR News, Los Angeles,’ you’d think, what a perfect NPR name.”

Ulaby agrees. “Tell me the names of your co-workers,” she says to people who bring up NPR’s unusual names. “After four or five names, they usually get my point. NPR names are not so weird.” As further evidence, Ulaby points out the bylines in newspapers. “No one ever says, ‘Oh, New York Times reporters have such … unusual names,'” she says, pointing to front page reporters like Douglas Quenqua and Simon Romero.

Then, Neda Ulaby throws a bit of sass in the magazine’s direction:

“And, um, the Atlantic’s masthead?” she asks. “Alexis Madrigal, Conor Friedersdorf, Garance Franke-Ruta, and Geoffrey Gagnon? Not to mention the incomparable Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg. I don’t know who she is but she deserves her own public radio show.”

“We live in the era of President Barack Obama,” Ulaby adds. “Welcome to the new American nomenclature.”

You know how you’re a big fucking nerd? When you can hold a conversation about the names of NPR correspondents like it’s no big deal. I need a new life. Everything about this article hit home in ways that I’m not proud of.

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