Name change

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Richard Smith, a 41-year-old care worker in Carlisle, England, did not think his name did justice to the exciting person that he actually was, so he changed his name by deed poll. The new name he chose was Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand.

As you can determine by Googling it, a name like that does tend to trigger the start of your 15 minutes of fame. The word combination Stormhammer + Deathclaw + Firebrand gets more than 12,800 hits already. In fact if you do a fixed phrase search using the quoted sequence "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand" for your search you get 38,600 hits… which is of course impossible. The number of web pages containing Stormhammer somewhere that also contain Deathclaw somewhere, and furthermore contain Firebrand somewhere, has to be equal to or greater than the number in which the sequence Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand occurs. Something deeply weird is going on with the way Google estimates numbers of pages (speculations about this have appeared before on Language Log and elsewhere). But one might expect weird things to go on in a world where someone called Richard Smith would rename himself Stormhammer D. Firebrand.

Anyway, if you are reading about Mr Firebrand for the first time here on Language Log, you are one of the slower-witted news junkies on your block, because they are all passing it round on the topical and fashionable blogs — not only but also the ones designed for humans.

In the news reports I've had time to look at there was no mention of any spouse who will be legally converted to Mrs. S. D. Firebrand by this renomenclaturization, nor of any boyfriend or girlfriend's opinion; so Stormhammer may be a single guy. Which means he may be out there in a bar tonight trying to pick up sexual partners, and giving prospectives his new name. Lots of luck with that, S. D., but if people seem to be edging down the bar or pretending to have spotted an acquaintance the other side of the room, keep in mind that you could have just said "Richard Smith" and bought them a drink. A single guy has to have a name that suggests reasonableness and normalness, not merely one that impresses itself on the memory.

This does not hold for blogs, though. Language Log will not ask you if you would like to take in a movie and maybe have a late supper or a nightcap, because Language Log is not trying to date you. (As individuals we might take you to lunch — you seem like a very interesting person — but that is not a corporate policy.) So we can be weird. We are in fact thinking of renaming Language Log Blastmonkey's Degobbinated Caterwaul in a few weeks. I hope that meets with your approval. If you have a better blog name for us, please offer it below in the comments area. All names submitted become the property of Language Log. Or Blastmonkey's Degobbinated Caterwaul as the case may be. Thank you.


  1. unekdoud said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

    It's hard to think of a new name for a blog(web log) about language which is already named that way.

    Hmmm… How about Language ln, as a mathematical in-joke? (Plus you get to keep the LL initials!)

    [Ah, yes, logarithms… But no. We don't do mathematical in-jokes, unekdoud. —GKP]

  2. Marinus said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    I've always been very fond of the point of view expressed in Terry Bison's very short story, They're Made Out of Meat. Perhaps LL can find inspiration for a name out of this wonderful passage (about aliens, who are composed partially or wholly out of non-physical matter, discuss the communication they've picked up from physical-all-the-way-through humans):
    "They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."

    I suspect that LL can profitably be named some variation of 'Usage Log of Sounds Made by Squirting Air through Our Meat'.

    [I'm going to give this serious consideration, Marinus. Just not for very long, that's all. —GKP]

  3. Sili said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    you are one of the slower-witted news junkies on your block


    To be fair Dicksmith does sound a bit like a gay porn name. [Doesn't it just. I agree with you there. Well, Stormhammer doesn't have to worry about that any more. —GKP]

  4. CarlM said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    It may be that Google has "fixed" the bad behavior, but I'm not getting the same results you claimed for the searches. (Yes, I checked. Apparently I have too much time on my hands.)

    Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand = "About 28,900 results"
    "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand" = "About 15,200 results"

    [(myl) Apparently YMMV, more than it usually does, on this one. I get

    Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand = "About 21,100 results"
    "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand" = "About 41,300 results"

    As we've observed before — and as been more or less confirmed by people who are more or less in the know — Google doesn't actually keep exact page counts for the power set of space/punctuation-delimited strings, with or without the constraint of order and proximity. Rather, they keep some "top N" lists for individual words (and presumably for some combinations as well), and extrapolate the counts resulting from intersecting (a relatively small and probably biased sample of) these. The results can be quite inaccurate, obviously, and also are unlikely to obey various theorems of the sort that Geoff sketches in the body of the post.

    In a case like this one, I conjecture that Mr. Firebrand's 15 minutes of fame is causing the counts of pages containing the elements of his name to fluctuate across indices updated at different times, and these counts are interacting with Google's page-count-estimation algorithms in ways that don't seem to make sense, but would be completely obvious if we knew what the algorithms and formulas actually are.]

  5. Stephen Nicholson said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    How about Cleaving Claymore Celebrating Phrases?

  6. Dave M said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    I understand that the troupe considered a number of other names before settling on Monty Python's Flying Circus, some of which were quite remarkable. Unfortunately, the only one I remember is Not Unlike a Bloody Stumbling Block, which is very nice. However, I would also read Blastmonkey's Degobbinated Caterwaul. Do keep us posted.

  7. Randy Hudson said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

    Dave M, the alternate MPFC name that's always stuck in my mind is "Owl Stretching Time".

  8. Yuval said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

    An Army and a Navy?
    Eskimo Snow?
    Ring a Ling?

  9. Q. Pheevr said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    Were you actually going to take the gobbins out first, or just rely on l'arbitraire du signe?

  10. z said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    Google isn't always a very good way to compare frequencies of things – I don't know what the specific mechanism is, but it can give different people different results for the same phrase, give you different results based on whether you're signed in or not, do things like what was described here, etc. I discovered this in a linguistics class when we were all doing Google "corpus searches" of some stuff and couldn't get our results for the same phrase to be the same. Damn Google.

    (Though with some things, like spellings of transliterated-from-Russian composers, I think it's actually pretty reliable… or I could be wrong. And of course it's very useful for seeing whether something is frequent – just not necessarily exactly how frequent it is.)

    [(myl) See e.g. "Uh oh", 1/23/2005, "Questioning reality" (1/24/2005), "More arithemetic problems at Google" (1/26/2005), "Pass the hát" (5/29/2005), "Web search counts: half empty or half full of __?" (10/15/2005), etc., etc., etc.]

  11. St.Alexander Bonaparte Caesar 4G said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    Chastened mouth

  12. Satu said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Maybe you could be Richard Smith for a bit? I hear the name's available now…

  13. Army1987 said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    @ unekdoud: I didn't get it until I read on. Damn sans-serif font with small ells which look so much like capital I's.

    No-one commented in the Simpsons episode when Homer changed his name to Max Power?

  14. Rubrick said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    I, for one, would be reluctant to employ the services of a care worker named "Stormhammer", much less "Deathclaw".

  15. möngke said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

    Tongue Trunk? (Or is this a bit too deep?)

  16. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    I know nothing about Google's internal software, but I'm willing to speculate.

    I think you're likely to see effects of the type mentioned when the numbers are rapidly changing. You have to consider the scaling problems that Google must deal with. The server farm occupies several large buildings containing many clusters, and there is simply no database made that can be updated at the rate that entire buildings full of servers can retrieve data through their fat pipe.

    So, what happens? There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of databases behind the wall. The databases are in different states of update. Depending on bandwidth constraints and connectivity, one may be several hours or even a couple of days behind another in terms of updates, or maybe it just has entirely different sets of information. You make two queries that are different in form, they get routed to different databases that probably are differently organized with structures to specialize in different types of request, and you get back an inconsistent result.

    A month or two from now when people have had time to talk about Mr Stormhammer and Google has had time to spider and index and update the talk, I would bet you won't see this problem.

  17. Sili said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

    Strunk And White Are Dead.

    It's true! even.

    Waiting For Grammar would be much too sad a title. I want Grammar to actually arrive.

  18. Stephen Jones said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Geoffrey Nunberg suggests you keep clicking until you get to the last page and then you get the total. Works fine with Google Scholar or Google Books but is rather time consuming if you're just using standard Google.

    There are 331 entries in Google for the string "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand", incidentally.

  19. Stephen Jones said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    Now at the end I get the message
    In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 331 already displayed.
    If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

    and then the same message with 858 results when I repeat the search. I suppose I could spend all night repeating the search but I've better things to do.

  20. mollymooly said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    "what we talk about when we talk about talk"

  21. Mark P said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

    In the news reports I've had time to look at there was no mention of any spouse who will be legally converted to Mrs. S. D. Firebrand by this renomenclaturization

    Where do you live that you think women automatically take a husband's name?

    [It's still very common in the UK, and even in the USA there are administrative things that go wrong for the modern married couples whose names don't match. Stormhammer is from Carlisle, a fairly small city in the north-west of England. It's no Santa Monica. The parents of the bride might well be looking at their beloved little Sandra becoming Mrs. Firebrand. If, that is, Stormy ever gets close enough to anyone to pop the question. —GKP]

  22. Lotus said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

    He probably should have just stuck with Dick Smith and moved to Australia. At least then there would be a chance of being mistaken for a millionaire.
    Surely "Hi, I'm Stormhammer" doesn't have quite the same effect on prospective partners as "I own a helicopter" or even "You can buy peanut butter with my name on it."

  23. Ray Girvan said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

    Mark P: Where do you live that you think women automatically take a husband's name?

    Whether they are or not: without getting into judgemental speculation about someone's personality … oh, heck, yes, I am getting into judgemental speculation about someone's personality … do you think anyone who does a weird geeky thing like changing their name to "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand" is likely to be married? Googling confirms:

    "Obviously I don’t have any family to get upset by it…"
    Carlisle News & Star

  24. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    I heard on NPR today that a Young Boozer is running for attorney general of Alabama. Actually, he's Young Boozer III, his grandfather having been the original owner of the name.

  25. ellael said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    for what it's worth, I personally know two different people who legally changed their name by deed poll from fairly bland names to rather ridiculous ones, and they both totally have girlfriends or wives. In both cases their new names were based on long-established internet profile names, and most of their friends had always known them by their 'new' names. Both are rather flamboyant personalities who had been foisted with very generic 'John Smith'-type names. Not to say that Mr. Firebrand necessarily fits any of these criteria, of course.

    Also, I rather like the idea of changing the name to 'Tongue Trunk'. It has quite a ring to it. You should inaugurate it with an article about clitics, to really confuse your new readership.

  26. maidhc said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 3:52 am

    I have a friend who spent a lot of time working on reverse audio. Basically he was trying to learn to say things that, when played back in reverse, would sound like normal speech. It's a challenge since many speech sounds are not symmetric.

    In the course of his research he discovered that one of his friend's names, backwards, was Ramwood Beets. And Ramwood liked the name so much he adopted it as a kind of alter ego.

    But that points out that one of the keys to a cool new name is the number of syllables. For example, Aleister Crowley decided that "Aleister Crowley" had the right number of syllables for his new name.

    I would say that "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand" has too many syllables and lacks rhythmic structure. "Stormhammer Smith" would be a good name. "Thunderclap Newman" was good too (same as "Aleister Crowley").

    Of the three parts, I think that "Stormhammer" is better than the other two. "Firebrand" is too commonplace; it sounds like a type of electric heater. "Deathclaw" doesn't combine well. I think it's because the first syllable doesn't flow well into the second.

    I think "Stormhammer Smith" was his best option. It's got a good beat, it's got alliteration, it's got Nordic god allusions.

    Perhaps there should be an advisory committee to help people come up with euphonious new names.

  27. maidhc said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 4:10 am

    As another example, let me add 1960s musician "Mars Bonfire", composer of "Born to Be Wild". A name with a nice rhythm to it.

  28. andrew c said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 6:53 am

    'No Words for X and Other Furphies'
    '53 Words For Snow And Still Nothing Worth Saying'
    'The Strunk and White Man's Burden'
    'Syntax and Spend Democrats'

  29. Roger Lustig said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 7:16 am

    Whatever happened to Throat-Wobbler Mangrove?

  30. Picasso said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 7:33 am


    [Are you calling us authoritarian, Picasso? Huh? I bet you write letters to the Daily Telegraph about how the world is going to hell because you read a split infinitive… By the way, how do you get on picking people up in bars with a name like Picasso? Not that I'm prying or anything. —GKP]

  31. Observer said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 7:54 am

    Either Cellar Door or Not a Cellar Door would be nice.

    But, as Eliot reminded us, great poets shamelessly steal from other great poets. Pop some corn and watch a Preston Sturgis or Marx Brothers movie. The language pennies will fall from heaven. For mass recognition, there is In My Pyjamas. Or Tuskaloosa Elephant. A little more subtly, With a Little Sex in It just sums it all up, no?

  32. Observer said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 8:01 am

    I should have thought to steal from Byron: More Abstruse Ecstatics.

  33. Alexandra said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 9:37 am

    I am still waiting for the name-change story that will top the guy who changed his name to Trout Fishing in America.

  34. Jay Lake said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    "We Have Thousands of Words for Language" would be my vote.

  35. Thor Lawrence said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    Might I draw attention to an old engineering adage? If it ain't broken, don't fix it. Those in the know, know LL for what it is. Those not in the know, well, are they worth knowing?
    Yrs smugly ;>}

  36. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    @Roger Lustig: Is it officially "wobbler", not "warbler"?

  37. Jeff DeMarco said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    I know it has been taken, but I like "A Mouthful of Air."

  38. Fred said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    I like that "Strunk & White Man's Burden"…how about (riffing on the same theme) Junk in our Strunk?

  39. Antongarou said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:43 am

    How about "Scribblings of a modulated air pressure signaler"?

  40. Army1987 said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    @Antongarou: I like it, but IMO it's better suited to a collection of poetry or a novel than to a blog…

  41. Terry Collmann said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

    Had Richard Smith instead been one of the 69 people in the UK, who are called, according to the youtnotme website, Richard Head, I could have understood it.

  42. MH said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    @Stephen Jones: Google limits the number of results it shows to 1000 per day. This holds true for any search, even when it says there are millions of results.

  43. Ari said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    Whatever happened to Throat-Wobbler Mangrove?

    I believe the correct spelling is Luxury Yachtt.

  44. Matt said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    You could go the Chinglish route and rename "Language Log" as "Tongue Stump".

  45. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

    > A single guy has to have a name that suggests reasonableness and normalness


    …a highly debatable opinion.

  46. Roger Lustig said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: No. "Throat-Warbler" is correct, of course. Thanks.

    @Ari: the P is silent, as in "Fox". (Different sketch, but still…)

  47. Stephen Jones said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

    @Stephen Jones: Google limits the number of results it shows to 1000 per day. This holds true for any search, even when it says there are millions of results.

    So if you get less than a 1,000 results you can presume it's the total but exactly a thousand is meaningless.

  48. Stephen Jones said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    Except of course you can't presume it. 'Sex' gives me the same approximate number of results as 'British monarchs'.

    So it appears that Google figures are entirely meaningless

  49. Bloix said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

    "Firebrand" is a perfectly good word and on its own it would make an acceptable surname. If I were to run into someone named "Firebrand" I would guess that it was an anglicized version of a European Jewish compound name beginning with "Feuer."

  50. Roger Lustig said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

    @Bloix: there is indeed someone named Firebrand in the US–lives in New Orleans.

    Not that it's likely to be a common surname anywhere, meaning "rabble-rouser" or "troublemaker", more or less. In fact, I haven't found any evidence of "Feuerbrand" or similar being used as a Jewish surname, and I do that sort of thing semi-professionally.

    "Feuerstein" and "Feuermann" make up the vast majority of the compound names you allude to. "Feuerstein" isn't particularly Jewish, either. The German on-line phone book has over 700 residential listings.

  51. Murgatroyd said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

    Then there's People Covered in Fish, one of the Other Three Riders of the Apocalypse in Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens.

  52. Bloix said,

    May 16, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

    Ok, so maybe it would be more likely to happen with a name like Fackel or Fackelmann. What I'm saying is that you very occasionally come across a name that has anglicized by being more or less translated into English instead of the much more common shortening or replacing with a "sounds like" name. I've run across this only among Jews but that reflects my experience – perhaps it exists among Germans and other immigrants as well..

  53. Nick Lamb said,

    May 17, 2010 @ 4:00 am

    Depends on how old you want your blog to appear to be, something like:

    Journal of the Learned Society on Philosophy of Symbol Processing

    sounds a lot older than an 1980s title like:


    which in turn sounds positively ancient compared to some arbitrary catchphrase like

    "Full of eels" (FoE for short of course)

  54. Nate said,

    May 17, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    Frankly, I think Firebrand would do well to touch the hem of Lord Jesus Christ's garment.

  55. Theo Vosse said,

    May 17, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

    I propose { w in A* | S =>* w }

  56. Wolf Paul said,

    May 17, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

    @bloix: It is a peculiarly American thing to assume that German names, or nanes that sound like anglicized German names, are Jewish. Actually there are many more Goyim (non-Jews) with German names than Jews — even in the US.

  57. a.y.mous said,

    May 18, 2010 @ 6:37 am

    Bespoken Besmirched.

  58. Colin John said,

    May 18, 2010 @ 8:11 am

    One of the candidates in the recent UK General Election changed his name to 'None Of The Above' – he stood in Chingford IIRC.
    Unfortunately, as Mr Above, he appeared at the top of the (alphabetically arranged) ballot paper.

  59. jim said,

    May 18, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    Apologies if my previous comment (deleted) came across as offensive or trolling. I hadn't considered that perhaps Mr Yorkshire Bank Plc Are Fascist Bastards might not be a household name everywhere.
    Mr Bastards likewise changed his name by deed poll, in protest against excessive bank charges. The bank (I leave you to guess which one) asked him to close his account. He did, and demanded that they send him the balance by cheque … made out to him in his new name.

  60. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

    Odd that we have had no comment from Mr. (Ms?) Skullturf Q. Beavispants, proprietor of one of the best names around.

  61. Matt Lutze said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    FYI, the unbound sequence search is at aprox. 16,400, and the quoted sequence is up to 115,000.

  62. Charles Pergiel said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 12:00 am

    New blog name? How about:
    Blastmonkey's Gobbinated Caterwaul
    or maybe:
    Blastmonkey's Extra Super Gobbinated Caterwaul
    or steal Richard Smith's new name:
    Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand

  63. April K said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    As a writer, I think having Firebrand as a surname would be a great shortcut to more notoriety. Just imagine a byline of A. Firebrand!

    Incidentally, as a medieval hobbyist for over 20 years, a name like Stormhammer Darkclaw Firebrand would hardly raise an eyebrow (except that Firebrand isn't terribly period-appropriate). In fact, I have met and befriended people with names like Bloodaxe, Stormhelm, Mountaingate, and Thorsdottir. Not surprisingly, a name like that (and a personality that would choose it) strikes me as an additional reason to make this man's aquaintance. Too bad he's probably just an aging fan of heavy/death metal.

    Anyone for Lexiconic Wrangling School?

  64. Aaron Davies said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 2:17 am

    this is the nomenclatural equivalent of this logo:

  65. Aaron Davies said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 2:18 am

    @Dave, Randy: my favorite was "Bun, Whacket, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot", which made a return as an in-joke (in the very silly party candidate's name) in some versions of "Election Night Special".

  66. Aaron Davies said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 2:19 am

    @maidhc: it is, however, double-dactylic

    what's-his-face what's-his-facestormhammer firebrandinstantly famous forchanging his name

    striking the ear of someanti-euphonicallysounding to most of usjust a bit lame

  67. Aaron Davies said,

    May 22, 2010 @ 2:19 am

    sigh, i hate wordpress

    this is ugly, but much harder to corrupt:

    in-a-name in-a-name/stormhammer firebrand/instantly famous for/changing his name

    striking the ear of some/anti-euphonically/sounding to almost all/just a bit lame

  68. Stormhammer Firebrand said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

    Hi, I just want to say that –

    A) I'm not quite sure why the article goes on about my name in respect to "picking up sexual partners".

    B) The name choice itself was nothing to do with trying to make myself more interesting etc..

    C) The UK "deed poll" service which I used to change my name, promotes itself each year with a list of "stange names" that people have decided upon. This in turn is spewed to news agencies.

    D) If anyone is actually interested – the reason why I did this is thus…
    When I was 24, I had a dream in which I was 41, and was called "Stormhammer Deathclaw Firebrand". I told my friends, and they said I should change my name to that. Many years pass…
    By the time I reached 40, all my family had died, and with no living relatives, I thought "whay the hell not?".

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