Your RDA of Irony

The Name Game

February 3, 1867:  Mutsuhito Begins His Nameless Reign

Happy 143rd anniversary to Japan’s Emperor Mutsuhito. He actually was the Mikado when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the operetta. Aside from not ordering ninjas to assassinate the D’Oyly Carte Company, Mutsuhito should be remembered for two remarkable achievements.

First, during his reign (1867-1912), Japan transformed itself from a feudal backwater into a world power. It mastered four centuries of industrial developments and military advances in just four decades. In 1853, during his father’s reign, Japan had capitulated to a squadron of gunboats from a third-rate power known as the United States. By 1905, after humiliating China and Russia in a series of wars, Japan was the master of East Asia. And in 1941…well, that may have been overreaching.

Second, even more remarkably, Mutsuhito never married into Queen Victoria’s family. How many royal lines can say that!

So, why haven’t you heard of Mutsuhito? Because no one calls him that. It was his name but the Japanese have a strange custom. When an Emperor dies, his reign is given an official title and the Emperor is then known only by that name. Upon his death, he and his reign were named Meiji. It means “Enlightened Rule.” And historians refer to him as that.

Remember his grandson Hirohito? Well, you shouldn’t. He now is officially known as Showa, “Enlightened Peace.”

Imagine if we applied that custom to our presidents, renaming them for their era. So our last eight presidents would be officially designated as Watergate, Pardon, Hostages, Glasnost, Kuwait, Monica, Catastrophe and Hope Cleanup.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    Well-named, Eugene, although I prefer the Google name for the last administration: “Miserable Failure.” Maybe that’s the future: google search terms as the names of administrations. As for Carter, I also like “HeTriedToTellUs” for his energy speech, in which, had we followed it, lay the seeds of NOT enduring so much of what’s transpired in the presidencies since.

    “Glasnost?” Nah. I like “Doddering Jingoism” better. Or perhaps “October Surprise.”

    And what gives with “143th”? If it was anyone but you, Eugene, I’d blow past it, but I know you take editorial notes well and graciously.

    B-T-W: I’ve embarked on reading a historical novel of some promise. “The Memoirs of Hadrian.” So far, it’s a good, if brooding read.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Bob,

      143th? Ouch. Yes, getting the math right I sacrificed the grammar. You can’t expect me to manage both!

      The Japanese imperial reigns only have a one word title, so I was adhering to that rule. Otherwise, I might designated the last eight administrations as President Lecter, Well-Meaning Bumbler, Well-Meaning Incompetent, Fatuous Charmer, Noblesse No-Oblige, Sexy Sociopath, Smirking Catastrophe, and Hopeful Cleanup.


  2. Michael says:

    I think the Presidential naming efforts so far have ignored the brand management aspects (or irony) of naming Hirohito and his reign Enlightened Peace. Hirohito ascended to the throne during a period (the 1920s) best remembered in Japan for political assssinations (not of the merely reputational variety) and debates between factions wishing to expand the Empire by attacking to the North (the Kodoha wanted to take on Russia) or the South (the Toseiha thought China the better target). Ensuing examples of enlightened peace included the invasion of Manchuria, the Rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbor, the placid Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and impressively sized naval battles in the aptly named Pacific Ocean.

    In that spirit I give you: Enlightened Justice, Over-flowing Creativity, Everlasting Strength, Deep Compassion, (I’ll come back to Bush 41), Admirable Self-Restraint, and Deep Reflection. I don’t believe our current President can be aptly named yet. The Greeks believed that no man could truly be called happy until he died and his entire story known. Likewise, a President can’t be aptly named until he’s gone from being a lame duck to a dead duck.

    And Bush 41? He already gave us two great ironic monickers himself: The Environmental President and the Education President.

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      Regarding the Preppie Supreme, I think that history will remember George Herbert Walker Bush with this heartfelt title: Wish He Had Mumps.


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