Mononymous people are those known by just one name, such as Sting. Pink, Adele, Donovan, Beyonce, and Bono. If they have a last name, they never use it. And there are people who are widely recognized by just their first name. For example, when you hear Hillary, you know they mean Hillary Clinton. Unless you are in a class on mountain climbing history, in which case they may be referring to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the peak of Mt. Everest. There is a recurring rumor that Hillary Clinton was named after the mountain climber, but we checked it out, and the rumor is false. Some others who are recognized by just their first name include Elvis (Presley), Ella (Fitzgerald), and, of course, when you hear the name Donald, you automatically think of Donald Duck.
This one name thing is nothing new. If we go way back to ancient times, we find Plato, Voltaire, Aristotle, and Groucho. They were all philosophers. Today it seems many of the people who prefer to be mononymous are musicians. In addition to the ones we’ve already mentioned there’s Enya, Shakira, Liberace, Madonna. I’m sure you can think of many more, especially if you are into rap music. Among non-musicians, the list is shorter. Oprah, Sheldon, Pele, and Nemo come to mind. Two of those four are fictional (do you know which ones?) Many other fictional characters are known by just one name. Like Bambi, Rumplestiltskin, Pinocchio, R2D2, and Bert, Ernie, and Elmo (of Sesame Street.)
But, just how does one get so famous they can be known by just one name? Not many people just start out using only one name. My conclusion is that to go by one name, you must have an unusual name. All of those we’ve mentioned so far are hardly commonly heard names, except perhaps Ella and Bambi. I knew a teacher named Ella and a cheerleader named Bambi. Some have become well-known by just one name because they were part of a duo or group. Like Dick and Dee Dee, Jan and Dean; and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Mononymous when together, but separated you need the last name tacked on to know who you’re talking about, they are Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers. After Mary passed in 2009, Peter and Paul each continued to perform as solo artists. I suspect using their full names. I can’t imagine the television commercial saying, “Appearing tonight at the Ho Chunk Casino. . .Peter!”
I am trying to think of people with ordinary first names who can get away being monomymous. I don’t think I could go by just “Bill.” Even Bill Clinton or Bill Gates couldn’t do that. Granted, you often hear the President referred to as Barrack. But that’s a less common name than Tom, Dick, or Harry. Can you name the Presidents with each of those first names? The only person I know personally who goes by just one name, and is moderately famous, is my dog Roy. And, what about Kitty? Well. . . her full name is Kitty Kitty, but we shortened it for their book title. (Self-serving book plug goes here: “Available on Amazon.”)