Guy’s Time: The Importance of Being Ernest
written by CARL DANBURY, JR. | illustration by ROBIN HARRISON
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”
– Oscar Wilde
Truly, what’s in a name?
Around the turn of the 20th century, the name Ernest was in the top 30 of popular boys’ names in the country, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. Today, Facebook is nearly devoid of Ernest references. On the feminine side, how many Ediths do you know, notwithstanding Jean Stapleton’s character on the famous sitcom, “All in the Family?” Ernest, however, is much more significant, because simply by inserting the letter “a,” this once-popular name becomes an adjective to describe the sober, the resolute, the serious, the intense. You can’t do that to Eadith.
There have been at least nine important or perhaps somewhat important Ernests that can be “Googled.” Angley the evangelist, Borgnine the actor, Gaines the author, Givens the favorite target of quarterback Warren Moon, Gallo the wine marketer, Hemingway the novelist, Shackelton the explorer, Tubb the musician, singer, songwriter, and T. Bass, the antagonist of Mayberry, N.C., for five episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show.” As Wilde also remarked, “The only really safe name is Ernest.”
The less-formal version of the name, Ernie, was much more populist at one time, and likely with good reason. Tennessee Ernest Ford would more suitable as a car dealership, or as a tributary than a country singer. Ernest Banks sounds like the perfect name for a savings and loan rather than a Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Fame shortstop. Ernest Pyle, a dutifully collected mass of earthworks, more so than the most celebrated war correspondent in the Pacific theater during World War II. Ernest Davis, a more likely professor of humanities at Syracuse University than the first black Heisman Trophy winner. Ernest Whitt? The ideal name for a stand-up comedian with interminably long sets, rather than a baseball catcher. And of course, Ernest Ladd, who might have been the greatest paperboy of all time, rather than a defensive tackle or professional wrestler. The Tennessee Volunteers basketball team in the mid-1970s could never have succeeded with the Bernard (King) and Ernest (Grunfeld) Show, but the Bernie and Ernie Show had quite a bit of allure.
Truly, what’s in a name? The modern- day news media world employs arguably the worst headline writers ever assembled, and imagine what we might see emblazoned on the front pages of our nation’s newspapers in the coming years if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, particularly as it concerns foreign relations.
“U.S. Trumps Saudi King during Peace Talks.”
“Trump Summons Air Force Aces to Destroy ISIS Positions in Syria.”
Gift shops all over Washington, D.C., are still trying to determine if decks of playing cards with his likeness must appear on both sides of all 52 cards and whether or not they can be used in traditional table games, or if each deck will include nothing but jokers.
While Trump heads into the New Year as the leading Republican candidate, some opponents are simply not taking him earnestly. Trump issued a statement on the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
One White House spokesperson wasn’t amused and cast aspersions that were critical of Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks and of his entire campaign saying that it, “had a dustbin-of-history-like quality to it, from the vacuous sloganeering to the outright lies to even the fake hair, the whole carnival-barker routine that we’ve seen for some time now.”
The quote is attributed to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. Undoubtedly, it would have been better for the namesake of Wilde’s play to simply borrow the playwright’s line: “The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me.”
But then, that wouldn’t have been earnest, would it?
FOLLOW THE CONVERSATION ON TWITTER @GUYSTIME