We close out a year packed with deadly serious news and stunningly silly diversions. For the Name of the Year announcement, please walk back through the year with me. Back before the Ebola epidemic, before the latest Kardashian escapades, to March 2, 2014. That was the birth date of the Name of the Year:
It was the evening of the 86th Academy Awards presentation. Actor John Travolta took the stage to introduce Best Song contender "Let It Go," from the movie Frozen. (That film also launched another Name of the Year contender in Elsa, the magical ice princess. She's proof that half a century after Samantha Stevens twitched her nose on Bewitched, a pretty blonde with supernatural powers remains America's surest recipe for a hit baby name.)
The song was to be performed by Broadway superstar Idina Menzel. Travolta had a little trouble with Menzel's name, which came out something like, yes, Adele Dazeem:
How does a simple twist of the tongue earn Name of the Year honors? The key is what happened afterwards. Adele Dazeem became the official fake name of the fake name era.
As soon as Travolta uttered his magic words, Twitter accounts under the name Adele Dazeem exploded. Even the "real names" network Facebook teemed with scores of Dazeem impersonators like these:
Hundreds more Facebook users took advantage of the site's nickname to enter Adele Dazeem as an alias, making it the world's alter ego. Slate.com, the online magazine that piles up awards for its coverage of world events, created an Adele Dazeem Name Generator to let you "Travoltify your own name." It quickly became the most popular article in Slate's history.
In the months since, Adele Dazeem has been enshrined as a verb meaning "to say a name wrong in a high-profile setting." During the Emmys, The Huffington Post tweeted "Gwen Stefani just Adele Dazeem'd 'The Colbert Report.'" USA Today recently ran a headline "The names most in danger of getting Adele Dazeemed this Oscar season." Then there are the memes, like:
This feeding frenzy is the modern life cycle of a gaffe. A generation ago, we might have waited for a late-night comedian's monologue to see what he made of Travolta's Dazeem moment. But social media has turned us into an entire nation of joke writers, 140 characters at a time. Millions of us are constantly on the alert for juicy material. As soon as anything odd or amusing happens, there's a mad race to write something witty about it and elicit applause from our public.
If Tweets and status updates are the new one-liners, then the more elaborate viral bits, like Slate's Travoltifier, are the new comedy routines. It's a quick, in-and-out brand of humor that requires a simple and recognizeable hook. Names, which pack a world of meaning into two little words, make ideal hooks. In this new world where we all give as well as receive soundbites, a noteworthy name packs more power than ever before.
Just ask Ed Balls. He's the British MP who, a few years back, tried to search for his own name on Twitter but accidentally tweeted his name instead. That two-word post has been retweeted more than 30,000 times, inspired countless viral imitators, and is memorialized every April 28 as "Ed Balls Day." Do you think the Internet would have gone similarly mad if another pol like, say, fellow Labour MP Ed Miliband, had made the goof? His name just doesn't pack the same punch.
That was a contained viral name outbreak. Nobody else pretended to be Ed Balls, because the whole point of the joke was that it was his own name. Adele Dazeem multiplies this weird-name magic with the power of the fake name.
Fake identities are a staple of the new online humor world. Every volcanic cloud that looms over Europe, every snake that escapes the zoo is now skewered with online impersonation. Even real people who can speak and tweet for themselves have fake doppelgängers, from Fake Chuck Norris to Fake Warren Buffett.
Of course, fake identities are also a staple of the broader online world. Issues of authenticity and identity protection go far beyond the realm of Adele Dazeem. Yet within her realm -- the realm of viral insta-comedy, name bloopers, fake accounts and unbelievable aliases -- she is queen. That realm grows every day.
Wishing you a great naming year ahead,
(also known as Laura Wattenberg)