Have you noticed that quite a lot of porn stars have names starting with a ‘B’, a ‘D’ or a combination of both? ‘So?’ one might think. ‘This is just a coincidence.’ Perhaps not. The choice of a ‘B’ or a ‘D’ is both a graphic one and a phonetic one. Of course there is the visual aspect of it, as a ‘B’ or ‘D’ expresses circular forms and curves. Or more explicitly: one could see a pair of tits or an ass in them. Some porn magazines and movies already play with this association by adding some nipples to both curvaceous outlines of the ‘B’. A double ‘O’ would also do well, like in the logo of the famous bar chain Hooters, known for its lukewarm beer, bad taste and busty waitresses. Though in this case, strangely enough, the ‘O’s are not used to form a pair of tits as partly suggested in the graphic design – which would make perfect sense as a visual translation of the brand’s ‘philosophy’ – they are rather used as the eyes of an owl, probably so as not to offend the chain’s clientele in more conservative areas of the world, like the US.
In addition to this unmistakeable visual effect that ‘B’ and ‘D’ have, there is also the matter of their pronunciation. In phonetics, three factors are crucial: the place of articulation (like the tongue pushing against the teeth with dentals); the way of articulation (like air going through the nose with nasals); and the vocal cords (whether the vocal cords vibrate or not). ‘B’ and ‘D’ are plosives, respectively a bilabial plosive and a dental plosive, meaning sounds expressing a kind of explosion – adding an extra layer of raunchiness to the message. This is especially the case with the bilabial plosive ‘B’, a consonant articulated with both lips, creating a small explosion – also called ‘lip smack’ in jargon – and which often produces a bit of saliva during the act. It is a highly sexual sound and gesture, which is often chosen as a phonetic – almost onomatopoetic – translation of its explicit content. It is why the letter ‘B’ is so popular in the porn industry. Think of Tori Black, Nikki Benz, Brandi Love or Briana Banks. The latter entered the porn arena under the alias Mirage, though she opted for Briana Banks in 1999, not coincidentally after having the first of two breast enlargement operations.
fig 2: Brigitte Bardot
The predilection for the letter ‘B’ to evoke a form of sexual tension or to mimic a pair of breasts that when rotated to 45 degrees, can be traced back much earlier, to a period less ‘in your face’ than nowadays; to the beginning of times, when God created woman, embodied by the figure of Brigitte Bardot: the archetype, or godmother, if you like, the double B, or B to the second degree. Though she probably had a double D cup. Like a double bubble, suggesting not one pair, but even two: more than a handful. Should it come as a surprise that her initials – as immortalized in the song by her former lover Serge Gainsbourg – are sufficient to evoke her name? Or that she managed to make a brand out of her initials, just as she made a brand out of her silhouette?
fig 3: P for Porn
Not only is ‘B’ a bilabial plosive, but also ‘P’, though ‘B’ is a voiced one, having a more pronounced sound, while ‘P’ is a voiceless one. Hence ‘B’ is more suitable for porn – a genre that doesn’t go for subtlety – than ‘P’, which has its charms nonetheless. A plosive is described in dry – asexual – textbooks as ‘a complete obstruction of the outgoing airstream by the articulators, a build-up of air pressure in the mouth, and finally a release of that pressure’. Obstruction, pressure, release? Does this recall anything? Should it come as a surprise given presence of the letter ‘P’ in penis, pussy or porn? ‘P’ is the softer version of ‘B’, while it still is an explosive sound, indicating the beginning of what might eventually finish with a bang. That ‘P’ stands for porn is also clear to Pamela Anderson, who is, not surprisingly, often just referred to as Pamela.
fig 4: Dirk Diggler
While dentals like ‘D’ might sound innocent from a phonetic point of view, their graphics, with a rounded, evocative shape, are not. That’s why the ‘D’ is also a popular letter in the porn alphabet, especially when its effect is reinforced by alliteration. Think of dazzling Debi Diamond, the delightful Dani Daniels – who borrowed her first name from an ex-boyfriend to avenge him – or daredevil Dirk Diggler, the tragic hero in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 epic Boogie Nights. The movie, and the mockumentary short film that preceded it, portrays the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler, a man with an ‘unusually long penis’, a handy tool in the business. The story of Dirk Diggler is based on the life of John Holmes, one of the most prolific male pornographic film actors of all times, who was said to have the longest, thickest and hardest dick in the porn industry. It might all be true, but his real name was definitely less catchy than Dirk Diggler. In the movie, the young kitchen help Eddie Adams – very convincingly played by Mark Wahlberg – meets Jack Horner who produces adult movies. Jack, always on the lookout for new talent, immediately sees potential in Eddie and invites him to play in his new movie. Upon meeting Eddie, the Colonel – also Jack’s investor – immediately approached him, saying: ‘I can’t give you much advice that Jack probably doesn’t know. I can advise though you to maybe think about your name. Think of some name that makes you happy or something with a little pizzazz.’ Soon, Eddie has an epiphany: ‘I just want a name so it can cut glass, like razor-sharp. When I close my eyes, I see this thing. It’s a big sign and the name is in bright blue neon lights with purple outline. And this name is just so bright and so sharp that the sign blows up because the name’s so powerful. It says: Dirk Diggler.’ Jack loves it and replies: ‘I guess Heaven has sent you, Dirk Diggler.’ The other colleagues in the industry are impressed by his name. When Little – horned – Bill goes through the script, he says: ‘Who’s Dirk Diggler?’ Someone replies: ‘That’s the new boy, the good looking kid.’ Little Bill nods: ‘Good name.’ Crew member Scotty J., a closet gay who fancies Dirk – played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – is impressed. ‘I like your name a lot, it’s really cool.’ Even in a cast that includes actors like Becky Barnett – once again the alliterating ‘B’s – or his friend Reed Rothschild, Dirk’s double ‘D’s stand out. His role makes the critics lyrical, like in the following rave review: ‘Diggler delivers a performance worth a thousand hard-ons. His presence when dressed is powerful and demanding. When stripped to the bone Diggler’s more eruptive than a volcano on a bad day. Amber Waves’ ripe cherry lips are doing a wonderful job handling Diggler’s wide load. And Reed Rothschild’s stiff biceps do a slapping good job with Becky Barnett’s supple ass. Diggler remains the standout in this film. It’s easy to predict that after only two films that Diggler’s suck-cess can only grow and grow and grow…’
fig 5: Dina Danish
Just as some people in the porn industry seem to have the wrong nom de plume (think of Lisa Ann or Christy Mack (could you come up with more generic, unremarkable names?), from time to time you may also encounter ‘ordinary’ people with names that resemble porn names. Like Dina Danish, a respected French-Egyptian conceptual artist whose work deals with language, humour, misunderstanding and mistranslation. Well, she definitely managed to create a misunderstanding here with such a name. Dina Danish sounds as porn as porn can be. We do not only have the alliterating double ‘D’s and rounded graphics – which scores two points in the rule of porn names – but also ‘Danish’. Despite evolutions in the last four decades or so moving in the opposite direction, many still associate Scandinavian countries – mainly Sweden – with lascivious women and porn, though few probably realize that this reputation of a porn haven is completely unjustified, as indicated by the fact that Norway was one of the first countries to fine whore hoppers; or (to quote the title of Marta Kuzma and Pablo Lafuente’s anthology) Whatever happened to Sex in Scandinavia? The sexual appeal of Scandinavia probably explains why the legendary Italian porn maestro Alberto Ferro – who comes from a respected aristocratic family and used his father’s diplomatic number plate to freely smuggle porn – changed his name into the more Scandinavian sounding Lasse Braun.
fig 6: Alliteration
As indicated in previous examples, alliteration seems to function as a slip agent in porn, which hardly ever adopts a subtle approach and just wants to make sure the message gets across, even if it has to be said twice. Other examples of alliterating names are Mia Malkova, August Ames, Jayden Jaymes and Jesse Jane, known from the Pirates spin-off and the third richest porn star with a net worth of US$8 million. And of course there is Jena Jameson, aka the Queen of Porn, the former porn star whose 2004 autobiography How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale spent six weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Jameson retired from the business in 2008. With an estimated income of US$30 million, she used to be the best earning porn star of her time. In her instruction manual, you can probably read that a key to becoming a porn star is to find a catchy name – something the Colonel in Boogie Nights realized all too well. Alliteration can clearly be helpful. In a way, alliteration could almost be compared to a kind of stuttering from excitement and sexual arousal, the phonetic equivalent of getting stuck trying to open one’s zipper or fumbling while trying to take off a woman’s bra.
fig 7: Dolly Buster
The most successful porn pseudonyms contain a combination of a dental ‘D’ and a plosive like ‘B’ or ‘P’. One of the first to realize that those sounds are an efficient way to translate her cup size into magic was Dolly Parton, a name expressing voluptuousness and which, for many, was associated with her curves more than her musical repertoire. ‘I’ve made a fortune looking cheap,’ she used to say. Whereas Dolly Parton still leaves things to the imagination, the Czech porn star Dolly Buster does deliver, and goes for the Full Monty and beyond. This well-chosen pseudonym has – with all due respect – a much stronger sexual appeal than her birth name, Nora Baumberger, though that might also turn on certain kinds of people. Though la Buster/Baumberger was very successful in adult entertainment, winning several Venus Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, her political career in the European Parliament didn’t work out as planned, as the minority Czech party she was running for only received 0.71% of the votes. She could only dream of the results of La Cicciolina, porn star/politician/muse and ex-wife of art market darling Jeff Koons, who has such a pretty name that could only have been invented by an Italian. In 1987, she was elected to the Italian Parliament and in an attempt to stop the Gulf War she was even willing to have sex with Saddam Hussein in return for peace for the region. Make love not war, for sure.
fig 8: Sensual Labials
Cicciolina is an interesting name indeed. Not only does it have a lot of vowels, which explains the lightness and musicality so characteristic of the Italian language, but the ‘L’ also has a part in it. Labials express a much lighter, elegant feeling than the more vulgar bilabials. What bilabials are to porn, labials are to eroticism. Take the airiness in the name of Lolita, brilliantly described in the opening lines of Vladimir Nabokov’s eponymous novel, in which the narrator lets his muse’s name dance on this tongue:
‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.’
The words are written by the protagonist Humbert Humbert; whether you call him a poet or a pure-and-simple paedophile, his name already seems to evoke that impression that he is up to no good, with twice the word ‘hump’ in it. Nomen est omen: the textbook example of a sneaky dry-humper.
fig 9: Linda Lovelace
But what about Linda Lovelace, one might object. You can’t really say that Deep Throat, the movie paving her success and leading to her subsequent downfall, is soft porn? No, this is true; however, Linda happens to be her real name: she was born Linda Boreman, a name that is rather… boring. Linda Lovelace should not be mixed up, however, with later generations of porn stars such as Brandi Love or Lilly Love. At school, Linda was stand-offish towards her boyfriends and thus was called Miss Holy Holy. Clearly not a great deal of the distance she initially kept towards the other sex remained in her performance in Deep Throat, a movie that strangely enough was shown in regular movie theatres and drew masses of viewers. It was even reviewed in The New York Times, a newspaper that is not exactly known for its coverage of the latest porn release. Later, Linda claimed to have been forced into porn at gunpoint, threatened by her abusive husband, and later became a reborn Christian and spokeswoman of the anti-porn movement. Although she had already been asked to shoot the erotic movie Laure, she said God had changed her life and she refused to do nudity – somewhat of a problem when playing the lead in a porn movie. She even objected to the (naked) statue of the Venus of Milo on the set, and was eventually replaced by another actress. Though her husband definitely comes across as an aggressive scumbag, some diagnosed her behaviour as typical of the PTSD complex (post-traumatic stress disorder) after have being raped previously. Several books were published which speculated on Lovelace’s tragic life, including The Complete Linda Lovelace by Eric Danville, a journalist who covered the porn industry for nearly twenty years. Not only did Danville write a weekly column, called Sex Scene, but he was also an editor of Penthouse and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and The Official Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll Book of Lists. All this might sound like a lot of fun but the guy definitely took his job seriously. When working for Screw magazine, the editor-in-chief Al Goldstein – who claimed to have made ‘love’ to as many as 7,000 women and was arrested nineteen times for obscenity charges – clearly dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s. He used to reprimand his writers when they made spelling mistakes, shouting: ‘Just because we write dirty words doesn’t mean we have to spell them wrong!’ Goldstein was regarded as the first journalist to write seriously on porn. Some even say that if he hadn’t written an ecstatic review of Deep Throat (with the legendary words: ‘I was never so moved by any theatrical performance since stuttering through my own bar mitzvah’), the movie would never have been such a hit; he created a real buzz, turning it into the milestone in the history of porn it is today.
fig 10: Epilogue
The arrival of the internet caused a revolution in the porn industry. Gone are the days of accidentally finding porn magazines in parks and streets or having to drive to a video rental in another district where nobody knows you to pick up a magazine or cassette. Never before has there been so much porn produced and consumed. More and more amateurs occasionally act in a movie, which also means the seriousness of the métier has been lost. Hence, less effort is put into coming up with clever pseudonyms besides the occasional Samantha Saint or Stormy Daniels. Call me a romantic fool but names like Katsuni, Isis Taylor or Bree Olson – one of Charlie Sheen’s exes – just don’t have it, that promise of excitement, pleasure and a sense of humour with a pun, intertextual twist or catchy name which sounds so enticing, that – when hearing it for the first time – immediately tickles your fantasy and lingers in your mind thereafter.