There’s a young lad who has been called the Barack Obama of Britain, and this may be indictment enough for many of my enlightened readers, but it is his actual name, rather than what he has been called, that fascinates me. As my readers may remember, I’m obsessed with onomatomancy; of the 163 known forms of divination, from tarot cards to tea leaves to pigeon entrails, it is the one, I believe, that delivers meaningful results.
It is clear even to a neophyte of the lore, for instance, that a man named Barack Obama cannot be president of the United States of America, any more than a woman named Amy Clampitt can be a poet of significance. Yet the late poetess, that absurd name notwithstanding, was feted, awarded, and published – beginning with a New Yorker debut in 1978 – as if she were Emily Dickinson come to life. And Barack Obama is in the White House.
Anna Akhmatova, Russia’s “muse of lamentation,” had been born with the surname Gorenko, which, being a poet, she changed to another – dredged up from the annals of her family’s history, which she traced to Khan Akhmat, a Mongol prince in Novgorod. For if a poet has no ear to hear that “Anna Gorenko” is the name of a personal assistant to the chairman of a collective farm, how is she to attend the celestial harmonies that make the poet? The craft begins with the name, and if Barack Obama had been a politician worthy of his remote predecessors in office, he would have changed his long ago to John Smith. I’m almost entirely serious when I say that this would have gone a long way to temper the incongruities inherent in his presidency. A nightshade by another name would smell more sweet.
Anyway, the young lad in question is named Chuka. Chuka Umunna, to be exact, and as of this writing he is Britain’s shadow business secretary, meaning that in the event of a Labour victory in next Thursday’s general election he will be steering the country’s economy. Whither? Whither can a man by the name of Chuka Umunna steer the economy of Great Britain?
Last week the young lad was much in the news for taking to task Nigel Farrage’s UKIP, which may or may not win a handful of seats in the next parliament. “The likes of UKIP,” he told the press, “don't like what modern Britain is. They claim to love Britain, but they hate modern Britain. There is a virus of racism that runs through the party which they’ve failed to deal with, and I’m not surprised given their leader doesn’t see the need for equalities legislation that we have in Britain today and that we're very proud of.”
Thus spake Chuka Umunna. I note that his Nigerian father’s given name was Bennett, and from this I infer that the lad’s grandfather had been wiser, and more suited to playing some part in Britain’s political life, than his father who – inspired, perhaps, by Soviet anti-colonialism rhetoric and a marriage to an upper-class Englishwoman – gave him the name Chuka at his birth in 1978.
The Englishwoman, incidentally, was the daughter of Sir Helenus Milmo, one of the barristers who represented Britain at the Nuremberg Trials and is fondly remembered at the Lubyanka for giving Kim Philby, the Soviet spy, a soft berth. So, as you see, onomatomancy isn’t all smoke and mirrors.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.