What’s in a (NPR) name?

We learned today that someone invited NPR’s Neda Ulaby to their wedding, just because they liked her name. Apparently, they even had a license plate — “OOLABEE.”

These things shouldn’t surprise anyone in public radio, who are fairly constantly asked about the names of people most of us public radio types aren’t any more friendly with than you are. Which reminds me: Ask NPR for a signed picture of Lakshmi Singh for that NewsCut reader in Fargo who asked for it a couple of years ago.

But The Atlantic today takes on the public radio fascination with the names of people at NPR.

Some names are just family names. You can blame Michele Norris’s father for the heavy stress on her first name’s first syllable; she honors him by insisting everyone pronounce the name the same way he did (MEE-shell). Cokie Roberts’s full name is actually Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Roberts. Cokie was just easier for her brother to pronounce.

Korva Coleman’s name is actually a twist on an elderly relative’s name, Cora. But “in some Slavic languages and possibly Hebrew,” Ms. Coleman explained in an email, “my name apparently means ‘slut.’ Once, I was on the table during my first pregnancy being examined by a new OB/GYN. At the damnedest moment you can think of, he raised his head and remarked, ‘I don’t know if you know this Ms. Coleman, but your first name . . .’ ‘I KNOW what it means!’ I shouted, scaring the poor guy half to death.”

We can’t see NPR reporters, so we have to picture them. And because they are with us in our most private moments — alone in the car, half-asleep in bed — we start to think we know them. Jonathan Coulton wrote a song called “Dance Soterios, Dance” about WNYC’s Soterios Johnson. “NPR is my alarm, so I’m pretty familiar with old SJ,” Coulton has explained. “I got to thinking: this guy’s so smooth, so polished, he’s got to have some kind of a crazy secret life in which he goes to raves and lets it all hang out.” Renee Montagne — with perhaps the most queenly of all NPR names — has said people always expect her to be taller and blonder.

For the record, then, here you go:


  • davidz

    So how did some guy named “Bob Collins” get into NPR at all? I mean, sheesh, is there any more generic name (not counting John Doe & Bob Smith). Ever think about changing your radio name to something more suitable for public radio?

    There’s a 😉 on that if you can’t tell.

    Welcome back, Bob.

  • Bob Collins

    And I come from a radio generation where people HAD to change their names, usually to two first-names. Jake Scott, Bob Ryan, Tom Keith (although I think that was our Tom Keith’s real name).

  • jon

    Radio people never look like what you expect them to.

    I assume they do this on purpose so they can wander the streets without swarms of radio fans stalking them.

  • Aaron

    A name & a voice with no picture is a lot like a blind date. You can either be pleasantly surprised or you understand why it’s a blind date.

    I went to the MPR open house a couple years back just to put a face behind the voice. Curiosity killed the cat.

  • Bob Collins

    We can see the disappointment. :*)

  • vjacobsen

    I’m not ashamed to admit, I almost named my son after Kai Ryssdal.

  • Tom

    I enjoy trying to figure out how names are delimited — is it Marco Wehrman or Mark O’Wehrman? Corey Flynn-Toff or Corey Flinthoff?