When someone asked me why we called ourselves “human beings,” or “humans” for short, I felt I should explain how the naming all came about, and of course naming ourselves was one of the first things to occur to us. We didn’t name mice and wombats until later on, after we did ourselves.

It went something like this.

Courtesy image

They call the rich, dark brown topsoil, up through which sprung life, as we know it, and, eventually mice and human beings, such as they are, “humus.” We find, that people are humus beings, or as they say nowadays, human beings. And mice are nice, but they are not human. And wombats? Who knows? Humans have a sense of humus, or humor, but mice don’t appear to. I suppose if mice had some sense of self, they might call it a sense of mousor. However, I haven’t ever heard of that, either. But that’s neither here nor there. Without a sense of humor, a man is no better than a mushroom.

After humans left their caves, and tired of hunting and gathering food, we are told they settled in the Fertile Crescent, planted chickpeas, and made them into mankind’s first processed food. Naturally, they called it hummus, and you can still buy it in your local grocery store by that name, sometimes spelled hommus, and sometimes hommos. Regional spelling variants vary in spelling, and I suspect it’s what turns up in Greek as “homo.”

Hummus is no longer everyone’s favorite food, but it was a good first processed food for humans. Naming it hummus instead of squashed beans may seem strange until you consider we thought it important enough to name it after us, or, perhaps, name us in honor of it. Calling us “humus beings” seems better than calling us “squashed beans.”

The necessary condition for a human being is to have what they call “a sense of humor.” Without a sense of humor, it seems life is tedious and unrewarding for humans. Folks can even be heard to say, “Humor me” when asking for the gift of kindness and conciliation. Also, as the ultimate disparaging remark, one can sometimes hear “He (or she)’s got no sense of humor.” Humor seems to have its roots in a wellspring of profound sorrow. It tells us: “You see, that’s the way it was, it was unpleasant, but we are still here, and we’ll be OK, so just laugh it off.”


In full honesty I should tell you, that from a young age, I had difficulty with names. That is, names always seemed illogical to me, and seemed to follow their own special set of rules in all of the languages I had looked at. Recognizing this as a weakness in myself, I thought that if I joined the American Name Society, attended some of their meetings, and read their quarterly journal called NAMES, perhaps I could overcome my weakness.

Well, you can imagine my chagrin when I looked for my name in the membership listing that is printed in the December issue of NAMES, and discovered they had misspelled my name. I took this as evidence that I had finally overcome my weakness for names, and they had not, and so I did not renew my membership in that society.

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached at ofrink@gmail.com.

Every year, the American Name Society votes for the Name of the Year during its annual meeting.

Names of the Year – 2020

Names of the Year: Kamala (Harris, US Vice President) and COVID-19 (disease caused by SARS-CoV-2)


Artistic Names: Schitt’s Creek (Emmy-winning Canadian sitcom)

Trade Name: Zoom (teleconferencing platform)

Personal Name: George Floyd (Black man killed by police in 2020)

Place Name: Wuhan, China (site of first ID of COVID-19 virus)

Miscellaneous Name: COVID-19 (disease caused by SARS-CoV-2)

EName: #QAnon (discredited/disproven far-right conspiracy)

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