‘What’s in a name?’ mused Juliet Capulet whilst loitering with intent on a Veronese balcony. ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? Shakespeare at his finest. Except Shakespeare didn’t write it. Well, not strictly. The words were craftily stitched together by a lawyer two centuries after the bard had penned – or quilled – them. There were two subtly different versions of Romeo & Juliet doing the rounds in the 18th century and both phrased Juliet’s famous line differently. The lawyer in question, Edmond Malone (who liked to do literary investigations on the side, like a bookish Perry Mason), took the two differing Shakespeare texts (one from 1597, the other from 1599) and performed what I believe today’s youngsters might call a ‘mash-up’. He took the following lines from the 1597 edition:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
And these from the 1599 edition:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.
And thriftily morphed them into:
What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Malone’s edit is the one history has been kindest to and is, therefore, the one we know best and quote most often. Yet William Shakespeare gets all the credit. The git.
(Malone’s other major contribution to Shakespeare’s legacy was to make the first serious attempt at a biography of him. Up until Malone, incredibly, very few people had bothered to do so. Neither, frustratingly, had any of those prior Shakespeare scholars thought it wise to interview the bard’s children or grandchildren, thus forever denying the world a flash of private insight into the great man. Malone was also to make a valiant attempt at arranging the plays in the order in which they were actually written, rather than accepting that they all just be lumped together lazily as either Histories, Comedies or Tragedies.)
As lovely as the line is, I’ve often wondered whether I agree with it. Are names important? I tend to think they are. For example, I’m not sure I’d fancy Zooey Deschanel half as much if her name was Hairy Splodge. Likewise, how many wall calendars do you think Ryan Gosling would shift if his parents had christened him Arse Boy? How many doe-eyed romantics would wish to wander the night streets of Paris if the city was suddenly renamed Blockbuster Video Storage Facility? Would aspiring young academics remain as keen to apply to study at King’s College Cambridge if it changed its name to Degrees 4 U? Would all these roses really smell as sweet?
The reason I started with the quote from Romeo & Juliet is that it is particularly apt for today’s subject: hotdogs. Unlike some of the things listed above, you really could call a hotdog by any other name and its appeal would not wane. I mean, it helps that the name is already pretty grim; we’re so used to it now that I suspect we barely pause to reflect on its shady etymology (if you’re interested, they’re named after their resemblance to daschunds). You could rename hotdogs whatever you liked – hot frogs, mild geese, chilled ferrets – and I’d still fancy one. It’s only recently I’ve begun to question why.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about locally sourced pork sausages covered in homemade relish and sunk deep in white powdery rolls. I’m talking about the absolute rotters. Weiners. Frankfurters. Whatever you want to call them. Those chewy light brown pipes made from chicken beaks and excess pig. I’m now craving them with enough regularity to make me worry. It doesn’t matter what terrible things I find out about them, their appeal stands fast. Just as a smoker will puff away, knowing full well that their cigarette is loaded with carcinogens, so I’ll gnaw away at a hotdog sausage, knowing full well that it consists of scraps a butcher wouldn’t give to his bulldog.