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Earworms and the 'mononymous' phenomenon

Doing a spell-check on a pop singer's name, the Monitor's language columnist is reminded how writers can get words, as well as music, 'stuck' in their ears.

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Hey, Beyoncé, do you know what they're calling you over at Wikipedia? "Mononymous." No kidding.

I was looking to confirm the acute accent on the pop singer's final "e" the other day. In the process, I learned that her unusual name comes from her mother's maiden name and was disabused of my vague notion that it is a portmanteau for "beyond outré."

But what's this "mononymous"? Wikipedia has a whole long article that begins, "A mononymous person is an individual who is known and addressed by a mononym, or 'single name,' " and then goes on to mention people as diverse as Cicero, Napoleon, and – Beyoncé.

One can imagine a convention of Mononymous Anonymous. The Classical Division – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – would be so busy disputing among themselves they wouldn't see they were blocking the hors d'oeuvres. The Great Painters Division – Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Titian – would all gravitate to the north-facing windows. And the 21st-Century Entertainment Division would each expect to be the center of attention, as only a 21st-century mononymous person can.

I could also imagine Oprah trying to get Socrates as a guest on one of her talk shows, and then seeing the deal founder when Socrates insists on asking all the questions.


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