Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pet Peeve: We Are All On A First-Name Basis With Leonardo da Vinci

Every time I see it, it's like fingernails on a chalk board. "da Vinci" is not Leonardo's last name; it's an appellation referring to where he was born. Calling him "da Vinci" is like calling Monty Python's fictional Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern Schplenden Schlitter Crass Cren Bon Fried Digger Dingle Dangle Dongle Dungle Burstein von Knacker Trasher Apple Banger Horowitz Ticolensic Grander Knotty Spelltinkle Grandlich Grumblemeyer Spelter Wasser Kürstlich Himble Eisenbahnwagen Gutenabend Bitte einen Nürnburger Bratwürstel Gespurten mit Zweimache Luber Hundsfut Gumberaber Schönendanker Kalbsfleisch Mittelraucher von Hauptkopft of Ulm "Mr. of Ulm". That's what really drove me crazy about The Da Vinci Code, a novel with not only one, but two errors in the title ("da" shouldn't be capitalized).

Naming conventions in art history (and history in general) are complicated and often irksome because of these "of place name" names, particularly because sometimes families did eventually adopt these names as proper surnames (Rogier van der Weyden [Rogier de la Pasture in French] and Jan van Eyck come to mind). Other commonly known names are nicknames: Botticelli, for instance, means little barrel; his actual name was Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi; Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone) means big ugly Tom, to distinguish him from his colleague Masolino (Tommaso di Cristoforo Fini), or little Tom. Other names are completely spurious (there was no artist named Matthias Grünewald, for instance, and his real name is debated), while others are pseudonyms, like Hieronymus Bosch, whose real name was Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken.

But Leonardo? That's an easy one. Call him, simply, Leonardo, like you're besties with him, OK?

Edit: Some of these same concepts add to the problems of alphabetical ordering. Please file Rogier van der Weyden under W, not V, Vincent van Gogh under G, Leonardo under L, and Domenico Veneziano (Domenico the Venetian) under D.

UPDATE: My coworker David Brown commented, "Please add Sebastiano del Piombo to the list."

20 comments:

z7q2 said...

Ha, I keep thinking of the scene from 'Long-Haired Hare', the crowd parting to let Bugs 'Leopold' Bunny through, but adapted to Florence 1500

Are you planning on replacing the Rice-n-Richardson color-coded systems with a targeted binary system, or have we permanently moved on from that?

Matty Boy said...

For mathematicians, there is also Leonardo of Pisa, a.k.a. Fibonacci, which means handsome son or fortunate son.

Another Italian mathematician known to posterity by his nickname is Tartaglia, which means stammerer. He was stabbed through the face when he was twelve and left for dead, but his mother nursed him back to health. The damage to his tongue and palette meant he never spoke properly for the rest of his life, and his always helpful friends gave him his handy nickname.

Peteykins said...

Another favorite artist name is il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), or "squinty."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great entry.

Johannes der Taucher said...

No! We need the "Da Vinci" appellation, as a sort of anti-shibboleth, so we can identify the poseurs who literally have no idea what they're talking about.

Peteykins said...

That's a good point. My coworker David (mentioned in the update) mentioned that it's "a good way to separate the amateurs from the professionals."

Frank said...

So "El Greco" get filed under "G"?

Peteykins said...

Correct. That's a nickname ("The Greek") too, of course. His real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Yes, but... by the time the great baroque composer "of Ulm" came along, the hereditary surname would have been firmly established in the culture. Although plain-old "Ulm" would probably be simpler... as in "Beethoven"? But what then of the great post-impressionist, Gogh?

Andrew said...

I must have had good art history teachers, since this has been a pet peeve of mine since junior high. I was always correcting people. (Maybe this is why I was so popular.)

Also, how would one categorize Tom of Finland?

dianegsocialist said...

So, if I *had* any van Halen cds...

→lisa said...

Well, now you've got me all confused. Do I file you under P for Princess, or S for Sparklepony?

Anonymous said...

Enjoyable post possibly exposing yet another reason history is damn near impossible to write or percieve correctly. Language and its rules are as reliable as carrying water with a fork albeit much more entertainig.

shamelessdomestichussy said...

LOVE this! Also, Hildegard von Bingen is not Ms. Von Bingen. And, while I'm at it, Christians worship Jesus, not Mr. OfNazereth, so you would think this would be an easier concept to grasp.

samael7 said...

I think that cat is so far out of the bag, he's set up a taco truck in Des Moines. Doesn't make it any less annoying, of course. Reminds me of:

Auntie Mame: Now, Mrs. Upson...
Doris Upson: Doris, dear.
AM: Doris, dear. Well, you must call me Mame.
DU: Mamie!
AM: . . . Mame.

I'm with you on the alphabetization/capiltalization thing. It's very hard these days to look up some of those names, because you generally have to check the Right Way (by the first capitalized letter of the last name) first, and then failing that, the Wrong Way (by the prepositions) in case the alphabetizer didn't know the rule.

I'm pretty sure this was taught in elementary school.

Matty Boy said...

This is such a popular topic, I only feel like a little bit of a comment hog to post twice, again about a mathematician.

Mohammed Ibn-Musa Abu-Jafr al-Khowarsimi.

First name, father's name, son's name, town he came from. Calling him "Mohammed" is no way specific enough.

al-Khowarismi has been preserved for all time in the word algorithm, because unlike other writers of math books in his day, he showed methods for solving problems.

Anonymous said...

cf van Gogh: could this be similar to the French "de," which is not dropped in front of one-syllable names as it is for others; e.g., "de Gaulle" vs. "Villepin."

Anonymous said...

It seems slightly pedantic to insist upon "Leonardo" over "da Vinci" since both names seem to have achieved as level of acceptance and recognition in English - but I will concede the point only if there is another equally famous individual who also sprang from Vinci - making the 'da Vinci' ambiguous - I doubt there is one.

Ricky Shambles said...

Reminds me of 11th grade English class:

STUDENT: What was Erasmus's first name?
TEACH: No one knows his first name.
ME: Actually, his first name was Desiderius
TEACH: Oh, maybe, but-
ME: And his full name included Roterodamus as he was from Rotterdam.
TEACH:Okay. There you are.

I guess names and language just stick.

Thanks for making me remember!

sueyeeleung said...

I've been thinking this for years! Thank you.