Now that baseball is over (I refuse to pay attention to this World Series, since I can’t decide which team I dislike more), it’s time to enjoy retrospectives on classic hot-stove league topics like baseball names, and Ben Zimmer has provided a fine one at Visual Thesaurus. His focus is on “unpronounceable” names like Rzepczynski (nicknamed “Scrabble”) and Mientkiewicz (“Eyechart”). I especially enjoyed this joke:

An immigrant from the old country came through Ellis Island. As part of a physical exam, he was asked to read a line of letters on an eye chart. Pointing to the fourth row (which contained the letters S Z Q W R E K Z I), the doctor asked, “Can you read these letters?” “Read them?!!” The man exclaimed, “I KNOW the man!”

And this video (which teaches you how to say the classic Polish tongue-twister W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie (“In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed”). Also, my wife and I are in full agreement with him on this: “My favorite surname among active baseball players is Saltalamacchia, as in Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.”


  1. They do say that Saltalamacchia has the all time longest surname among major league players.
    What does that word mean in Italian? Google translate tells me macchia=stain, and my wife always says to sprinkle salt on the rug if someone has spilled red wine on it …

  2. Kári Tulinius says

    I’ve long been fond of the name Albert Pujols, but I can be childish that way.

  3. In 2007, the Sri Lankan Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanka Welegedara became the first test cricketer to have six initials before his surname.
    Beat that, baseball fans!!!

  4. stain
    Also ‘thicket’. Cf. maquis.

  5. John Emerson says

    Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Stalin Colinet, and Miroslav Satan.

  6. marie-lucie says

    Many Italian surnames are very colorful and consist of short phrases depicting actions, deriving from old nicknames or epithets given to an ancestor, before the universal use of family names.
    It. saltare = Fr sauter ‘to jump, leap’ (‘to salt’ would be salare, Fr saler); macchia ‘stain’ or ‘clump of trees’.
    So the name is about jumping over something, whether over a stain or a clump of trees. I incline towards the second interpretation, which is reminiscent of the exploits of Superman who “leaps tall buildings”. It could have referred to prowess in sports, or, more likely, to the boastful personality of an ancestor.
    Of course, a genuine Italian person might have another interpretation.

  7. Charles Kingsley (though with a linguistic tin ear for Polish) made a similar joke in the 1863 The Water Babies:
    “And his name, as I said, was Professor Ptthmllnsprts, which is a very ancient and noble Polish name”.

  8. The Zimmer piece (which I should have read before commenting!) says “jump over the thicket”.

  9. rootlesscosmo says

    I’ve always thought Saltalamacchia was an exact equivalent of the term “briarhopper” which is used in some parts of the Ohio River Valley to designate country folk.
    And there’s a wonderful song, lyrics by Dave (“My Attorney Bernie”) Frishberg, which consists of nothing but the names of major league ballplayers: it’s called “Van Lingle Mungo,” after a Dodger pitcher of the 1930’s.

  10. mollymooly says

    I used to love the late Bill McLaren’s rendering of the French rugby team’s multifarious surnames with his Scottish accent. Camberabero, Lagisquet, Bénézech, Blanco, Dubroca, Castaignède, Dominici, Ibañez, Accoceberry, Hueber, Imbernon, Sadourny…

  11. Saltimbocca means “jumps in the mouth”.

  12. My all-time favourite sportsman’s name is still Papa Bouba Diop.

  13. In cricket commentary it was the conjoining of names that produced the jokes: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey”.

  14. In 2007, the Sri Lankan Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanka Welegedara became the first test cricketer to have six initials before his surname.
    I was very disappointed to go to the Wikipedia page and not find one of those helpful pronunciation links.

  15. marie-lucie says

    rootlesscosmo: I’ve always thought Saltalamacchia was an exact equivalent of the term “briarhopper” which is used in some parts of the Ohio River Valley to designate country folk.
    I think you must be right.
    AJP: Saltimbocca means “jumps in the mouth”.
    It is a contraction of salta in bocca, which probably means “jumps into the mouth”.

  16. AJPC Cow, you’re clearly forgetting Y.E.T.A.N.O.T.H.E.R. Pratt.

  17. michael farris says

    It looks intimidating to the uninitiated but “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie” isn’t really hard to say once you know Polish orthography and pronunciation. I can’t think of it as a tongue twister.
    On the other hand “stół z powyłamywanymi nogami” (table with broken off legs) is a real tongue twister.

  18. Don’t forget the opening batsman Hugh Jarse.

  19. I was immediately reminded of Umberto Eco’s characters (in Foucault’s Pendulum), Annibale Cantalamessa and Pio Bo.

  20. John Emerson says

    Look up Casamassima, Sanseverina, and Belgiojoso. Quite a story there.

  21. rootlesscosmo says

    @marie-lucie: Some years ago I was in a North Beach Italian deli when a young woman tourist came in and engaged one of the counter guys in conversation, mentioning that she was from Bolzano. After she left I overheard him saying something to a colleague which I understood only in part, but which definitely included the term “mangialasino;” I take this to mean that those folks live so far up into the Alps they eat the donkey on their way home.

  22. komfo,amonan says
  23. The New York Times op-ed page ran a long poem in trochaic tetrameter quatrains back in the 1980s consisting entirely of the nicknames of baseball players. Search at nytimes.com as well as the open Web has been unavailing, and I only remember a fragment of the final line: “(something), Big Train, Bubba, Bo.” (Unfortunately “Bubba” and “Bo” are non-unique nicknames, so I can’t provide links.)
    Anyone remember it, or better yet have a source for it?

  24. Anthem by William “Sugar” Wallace.

  25. Oops. Didn’t preview enough.

  26. Dearie, in the fifties The Goon Show had Hugh Jampton as a character (Hampton is rhyming slang, from ‘Hampton Wick’, a part of London). It sounds like a WW2 forces’ joke; it must have been quite satisfying for Spike Milligan that the BBC bureaucracy didn’t get it.

  27. The joke with Hugh Jarse was to see if you get the announcer on the tannoy to request that Mr Hugh Jarse report to the pavilion please.
    P.S. Do you remember the broadcast where the commentator could say “It’s Lillee, caught Willey, bowled Dilley.”

  28. when I first visited Poland I bought a Russian – Polish phrase book. It is amazing how much more sense Polish makes to me if transcribed in Cyrillic (or, for that matter, just transcribed using Czech spelling conventions):
    В Щебжешине хжонщ бжми в тжцине.

  29. Lillee was after my time.

  30. Once he said “It’s Lillee, caught Lillie”. Both Dennises.

  31. I believe that at one time the Baltimore Orioles had three players named Lopez. One was a pitcher and one was a catcher, so sometimes you had Lopez throwing to Lopez. The catcher, Javier Lopez, nicknamed Javy, later played briefly for the Red Sox, and even overlapped there very briefly with another pitcher also named Javier Lopez.

  32. MMcM: I hardly doubted you would fail me, but thank you and Empty too. Of course I should have realized that I had cobbled up the last line of the first stanza and the last line tout court.
    “Two Andy Gorams, there’s only two Andy Gorams” (air: Guantanamera)
    These are the saddest of possible words:
    “Tinker to Evers [ivɚz] to Chance.”
    Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
    Tinker and Evers and Chance.
    Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
    Making a Giant hit into a double –
    Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
    “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
    (air: Vive la compagnie!)

  33. Re Ray: Those unfamiliar with Kingsley may find it useful to know that Prof. Ptthmllnsprts is the sort of natural historian who preserves everything as specimens in alcohol.

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