What's in a Name? Special Edition: Lady Gaga
Photos by Marco Torres
"Wow!" you're thinking. "That rascally little go-getter with one f managed to snuggle up next to Lady Gaga while she was in town last week and get the inside story behind her famous moniker!"
Well, truth be told, she stole our cantata based on Faust and had us framed for drug possession. During the subsequent prison sentence, our teeth were pulled and our face mangled in a record press.* That's why a) There's no in-depth interview with milady, and b) it took us a week to get around to putting something together our take on her name.
Ed. Note: Please stop pretending you're the Phantom of the Paradise.
Now, Gaga has mentioned to other journalists in the past that her stage name was a creation of an errant auto-correction in a text that was supposed to read "Radio Ga-Ga." That, for those of you live under a rock yet still somehow have Internet access, was a 1984 single by Queen about how television had overtaken radio as a form of entertainment.
But the word Gaga itself is fraught with all kinds of meaning and pop-culture nuances. First of all, Gaga is actually its own language. Or rather, Gaga is a sub-dialect of the Arpitan language spoken at the alpine borders of France, Switzerland, and Italy.
The Gaga dialect of this dying language originates from the Forez region of France. The name was coined from Auguste Callet's story "La légende des Gagats." Callet refers to the residents of Saint-Etienne as Gaga, and the name stuck.
The inhabitants should probably be leery of the title. The word Gaga appears in several different cultures as a slang term and almost never as something positive. In English it can refer to someone who is senile, psychotically obsessed, or just regularly psychotic.
Even outside of English, the term has bad juju. In Tagalog, for example, the word means idiot. Specifically, a female idiot.
It's not all bad, though. Gaga has also been used to describe some pretty cool things, as well. For instance, there was a god called Gaga in ancient Babylonia. Awesome, right? He must have been the god of breakups, blood fountains, tattoos, and telephone hairpieces. Unfortunately, no.
Gaga's whole gig involved telling people that Marduk and Tiamat were getting ready to throw down in the religion's deistic civil war. Think of him as the drummer boy of Babylonian mythology... or maybe that guy who used to bring James Brown his cape.
A much cooler use of the word Ga-Ga comes from Israel in a form of dodgeball. For anyone who has never read up on Israeli sporting techniques, do yourself a favor and go look up the martial art they invented called Krav Maga. Basically, they just assume that any enemy that attacks you is out to torture and kill you and everyone you love.
Ga-Ga isn't as rough as that, but it has its hardcore points. First off, you're supposed to play it in a freaking pit like it's a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Second of all, you're not even allowed to throw the ball. You have to sort of scoop it, and many players have huge scars on their hands from scraping the ground to get the ball.
Oh, and people tend to give each other concussions trying to gain control of the ball by diving at it while it's on the ground. Only one other nation has really taken to Ga-Ga. If you guessed Australia, then pat yourself on the back.
In the end, the word Gaga is likely to be forever redefined by Lady Gaga herself. Until that day though, we're taking this opportunity to define her as a the Babylonia god of dodge ball and craziness.
Get the Music Newsletter