Stark raving nekkid.
Dear Word Detective: Recently, you were kind enough to elucidate upon the possible origin of the phrase “naked as a jaybird.” I have a related query. As a young lad, I was tortured by a variety of unsavory youths who found it clever to repeat the phrase “stark naked” at and around me as much as possible. As you can guess from my name, this drove me more than a little nuts. Now that I’m older and my friends are a little more cognizant of my feelings, I thankfully don’t hear that dreaded phrase much anymore, at least not directed at me. But when I do hear it occasionally, I still cringe. Any clue where this most hated expression originated? Hopefully, it did not begin as a direct result of any of my relatives’ behavior. — Steven Stark, New York City.
Gee, don’t you mean “hopably”? Just kidding.
I’ve always wondered whether it’s better to have a name that everyone recognizes and makes fun of, such as yours, or one that strikes other kids as extremely strange, such as mine. Even several of my teachers insisted that I was mistaken and that my name must be “Kevin.” Now that my name is newly trendy, I suppose people will be as sick of “Evans” in twenty years as they are of “Heathers” now.
Oh yes, you had a question. “Stark naked,” is it? Well, as a distinct phrase, it’s been around since the early 16th century. In Great Britain, someone appearing in public clad only in his or her birthday suit is said to be “starkers” (and, of course, is often addressed as “Your Highness”).
“Stark” in this context has nothing to do with your name. It comes originally from the Old Norse, meaning “strong” or “stiff,” from which we derived its modern meanings of “utter” and “complete” — whence came “stark naked.” Your name, in fact, may well be based on the original sense of the word — perhaps your ancestors were known as “Stark” because they were strong, resolute and fearless. So chin up, old boy. Get out there and conquer the world. But put on some clothes first, OK?