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What’s so funny?

Settembre 2014
Le battute costruite sui nomi di persona sono più che altro delle freddure. Chiamatelo umorismo da oratorio, ma è molto utile per approfondire la conoscenza dell’inglese, soprattutto la pronuncia. Provare per credere...

di Julie Dawn Fox © British Council

File audio:

Speaker: Rachel Roberts (Standard British accent)

Cliff, Annette and Russell are typical British names. Do they seem funny to you? Probably not, but some people with these names are tired of everyone laughing at them. Why do they laugh?


A lot of English names sound the same as verbs or nouns; in fact some of them are exactly the same. That makes it easy for people to make jokes like this:
Question: What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?
Answer: Cliff.
Why is that funny? Because seagulls usually live in or on cliffs near the coast.
Here’s another:
Question: What do you call a man in a pile of leaves?
Answer: Russell.
Russell (R-U-S-S-E-L-L) sounds the same as rustle (R-U-S-T-L-E), which is the noise you make if you move dry leaves.
Not so funny? How about this one?
Question: What do you call a woman standing on a tennis court?
Answer: Annette.
Did you get it? “A net!”


A creative way of turning names into jokes is by matching book titles with amusing author names. Try saying these aloud: An Optician’s Guide by Seymour Clearly (“see more clearly”); Coastal Walks by Cliff Topp-Path (“cliff-top path“); Haunted House by Hugo First (“you go first”); Long Walk Home by Miss D. Buss (“missed the bus”); My Worst Journey by Helen Back (“hell and back”).
It’s easy to make name jokes yourself when you think about other meanings for words that sound alike. Bill, for example, is a short version of the name William, and also something you have to pay in a restaurant, or for electricity. Can you make a joke about Bill?


Name jokes can be very funny, especially when they are invented names. However, people with names that could be funny may not be so amused. If it’s possible to make a joke using their name, someone has probably done it, possibly hundreds of times, so don’t be surprised if they don’t laugh at your joke!

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