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Gimme Shelter: Playing the name game

The most popular names for children born in 2022, according to the website BabyCenter, were Liam, Noah, Oliver and Elijah for boys. And for girls: Olivia, Emma, Amelia and Ava.

Ambrose wasn’t in the top 10, or even the top 100. Atlas took the last spot. 

When I was a kid, until the age of 12 or so, I didn’t like my name. I wanted to be a Joe, or a Bob or a Tom, anything (maybe even an Atlas), anything but an Ambrose. But then I realized it wasn’t so bad — even kind of cool — to have a name all to myself. I’ve never met another Ambrose.

What’s in a name? Stories.

A newspaper once assigned me to find the worst comic on Long Island — don’t ask — and I found Glen Anthony, who was miles from the worst, but probably the busiest.

He greeted me in a small alcove off the dining room in his spotless Smithtown house. How to describe Glen? Think of Dudley Moore on his worst day. Add a marble-mouthed riff with echoes of Brooklyn, a black-and-white jumpsuit, sneakers and a particularly aggressive cologne.

Glen was christened Enrico Ponzini. He started out as a crooner, but when he was beginning to get some bookings, an agent told him, “If I say I got a singer here named Enrico Ponzini, it’s strictly Sons of Italy shows.”

Glen struggled to craft a killer show biz moniker. “I always wanted a short name,” he said. Brad, Cliff, Derek and Scott were tried on, but didn’t suit. “I picked Glen,” he told me. “Anthony’s my father’s name. Glen Anthony. I know, I know, very mayonnaise.”

Leaving the singing to Jerry Vale and Al Martino, Glen became a comedian, and a busy one, playing everywhere they’d let him: clubs, bars, weddings, bar mitzvahs, firehouse stag parties and local comedy clubs.

He slays with stuff delivered rat-a-tat-tat: “The doctor asked my brother — Do you have mutual satisfaction with your wife? No, he told him. We have Allstate.”

Cue the cymbal crash.

“I just feel funnier with Glen,” he said, making a singular point about name changes — it changes how people perceive you, but more importantly, it changes the way you see yourself.

Headline writers received a gift a decade ago from basketball player Metta World Peace — aka Ron Artest — when he was suspended for seven days by the NBA for fighting. A few newsroom layups included: “No World Peace For A Week,” and “Peace Out.” Or, topping an opinion piece: “World Peace Should Be Banned.”

Muhammad Ali takes the best athlete’s name-change award because he did it to honor a commitment to something that changed his life, and not, like Mr. World Peace, as an attempt to re-brand a really bad screw-up.

Commitment, because the self-described “pretty” Ali had to abandon a name pretty close to perfect for the personality. Listen to the sound of Cassius Marcellus Clay, a mellifluous handle befitting a heavyweight who could float, and eerily like his Shakespearean namesake, who Julius Caesar observes: “Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much: Such men are dangerous.”

Mr. World Peace recently changed his name again. He’s now The Panda’s Friend. As I said when I came in — Don’t ask.

Juliet has been praised for observing that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would Cary Grant be as debonair if he was billed as Archibald Leach, or John Wayne as macho as Marion Robert Morrison?

Reg Dwight or Elton John? I don’t see the difference. If Jennifer Anniston had taken her father’s original name and was Jennifer Anastassakis, would she be as lovely? Yes. Maybe more so. But Tim Allen is a real upgrade over Tim Dick.

It’s easy to legally change your name. In New York, just petition State Supreme Court supported by an affidavit that you’re not trying to duck criminal prosecution or beat creditors, and a judge will almost always grant your plea. My friend, attorney John Ray, has represented clients looking for new handles who range from those who hate their fathers to people whose identity has completely altered.

In one of the first Long Island gender change/name change cases, John was in front of a judge who hadn’t been following the news, or much of anything else. “I’m telling him she wants her name changed from Richard to Rachel, and he keeps asking, ‘Why?’” John said.

The judge turned to the newly-minted woman. “You’re a Richard, why would you want to be a Rachel?”

After given an explanation just shy of drawing a picture, the befuddled jurist finally got part of the idea, enough to gavel Rachel into being. “Or it was time for his nap,” John said.

Some people decide to change their names out of embarrassment. “I had a client who wanted to change his name because people were laughing at him,” John said. “He was an Italian guy named Bimbo, and obese. He took an Irish name.”

This should illustrate the necessity for court reform. With the stroke of a judicial pen, Bimbo became just another fat Irish guy out there.