Monday, February 25, 2008

Unkown (for Unknown)

Someone I know recently advised me that last names starting with the letters Unk– are probably typos, since he had never seen any in the course of his job. However, NACO contains over 100 such names, along with a dozen or so "Unknowns," including Unknown Artist, Unknown Biographer, Unknown Christian, Unknown Critic, Unknown D.J., and Unknown hand. ("An unknown hand" was another way of saying "Anonymous.") One of these, an Atlanta-based rapper, eventually shortened his stage name to Unk. You may also recall the Unknown Comic, who was featured on The Gong Show, but isn't listed in the name authority file perhaps because he was unable to write his way out of a paper bag. (There is a heading for the man who played him, though, Murray Langston.) The 1927 Tod Browning film The Unknown stars Lon Chaney as "Alonzo the Armless," in love with a young circus performer, played by Joan Crawford, who has a horror of men's hands, both known and unknown. ("Men! The beasts! God would show wisdom if he took the hands from all of them!") This film was commercially unavailable for many years until, at a 1973 screening at the George Eastman House, it was announced that an archivist with the Cinémathèque Française had discovered a copy five years earlier among some film canisters marked l'inconnu (films that were "unknown" because of missing titles). OhioLINK reveals 22 cases of Unkown and one of Uknown.

Carol Reid

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