What’s In A Name?

I don’t believe in magical qualities, but, there are names we take and hold to ourselves, and names we let others know us by.  Many bloggers hide behind some sort of pseudonym, myself included.

Fake or changed names are very common within the entertainment industry.  Frances Gumm became Judy Garland, and Marion Michael Morrison got to be John Wayne.  Norma Jeane Mortenson emerged from her chrysalis as Marilyn Monroe.  Singers like Cher and Madonna get by with a single name.  Gowan did it for a while, but finally became Lawrence (Don’t call me Larry!) Gowan.  Eileen Edwards re-invented herself as Shania Twain, and Reginald Kenneth Dwight legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John, and let’s not forget Meat Loaf.

At my son’s plant there is an Andre, and they just hired an Andrej.  You can see the difference when you read it, but whenever anyone is referring to one – which one?  I had a woman named Laurie Embro at my plant. Her younger brother had a girlfriend named Lori, whom he eventually married.  When times were good she applied to the company for a job and got hired.  Fortunately they placed her down the street at Plant II.  As times got tight, they amalgamated the two plants.  Now we had Laurie Embro, and Lori Embro – which one are you paging?

In a plant of 200 workers, three of them were Smiths, no two related.  Tony seemed to be the most common male first name.  We had six.  Of a three-man part-forming team, two of them were Tonys.  One time, a Tony on another shift traded places, so, for a week we had a crew of Tony, Tony, and Tony.

When we got new union cards, there were two names that had problems.  One was a Newfoundland fella named Junior.  Not Robert Jr. or anything like that, just Junior.  The union phoned three times to verify that.

The other guy’s first name was Chuck!  Again, not Charles anything, CHUCK!  He was a huge, foul-mouthed buffalo biker.  When he received his union card, it read Church.  “Do I look like a f*%#in’ church??!”

Number three Tony, above, was another Newfoundland boy. He named his two sons Robert Russell and Michael Russell and never noticed the duplication until Tony number two pointed it out to him.

I went to school with a girl named Venetia – venn eeh sha – didn’t seem difficult.  I ran into her at a plant I worked at.  It must have been more difficult than I thought.  Now she was addressed as vanessa.

I’ve admitted the Scottish lad is saddled with the English name of Smith, even if it is really German.  My half-sister was born a Hepburn, but changed to Smith when Mom remarried.  She went out and married another Smith, not related to us.  She was throwing a Christmas get-together one year.  There were my parents, the other set of parents, the sister and her husband, myself and my wife, my brother and his wife, and my two adult nephews, each with a wife.  The phone rang, and a telemarketer asked to speak to “Mrs. Smith.”  “Which one do you want?”  We got a snotty, “How many do you have?”  Seven in the room at this moment.

My first name isn’t John, but for the sake of this post it is.  I’ve come to know about a lot of local John Smiths.  The wife and I were watching a late movie one Saturday morning around 2 AM, when the phone rang.  “Hey.  This is Guido.  I’m checkin’ in!”  Who in Hell is Guido and why is he calling me?  Seems there’s parole officer named John Smith.  Shouldn’t Guido have his contact number?  Did he lose it?

I got an angry call from some guy promising to come over to the house and punch my lights out.  Why would you do that?  “I got half way to the next town and my transmission fell out.”  Again, so?  “Well, ain’t you John Smith of John’s Transmissions?”  No, and next time take a business card.

When I first came to town, I took an adult retraining course from the community college.  A ten month course took me sixteen months to get out of because I worked as acting office manager for three weeks, and taught a class to others, for four months.  I got a tentative call one evening.  Is this John Smith?  Yes. From Adult Education?  How do I answer that?  It’s been years.  Turns out there’s a new teacher named John Smith.  We finally decided to put the phone in the wife’s name, listing only her initials.

I went to the nearby dental clinic for work on a right, lower molar.  The technician stuck a freezing needle in on the upper left.  Another John Smith had moved into the neighborhood, and picked the nearest dentist.  I got his anesthetic shot, and then I got my own.  I walked around for the rest of the day with my face falling off the front of my head.  Since then I’ve learned to double-check birth date and/or address before any procedure.

Once, I lived downtown, five blocks off the main street, where there was a bank on the corner.  Since it was handy, I opened accounts there.  Two old century-houses directly across the street were torn down, and a ten-storey apartment building went up.  John Smith from Kingston, five hundred miles away, came to town to find work and moved into an apartment.

My street number was 250.  His was 251.  He went to the nearest bank and opened accounts.  Our checks and deposit forms both had account numbers in magnetic coded ink at the bottom, but the tellers would scratch them out.  If I made a deposit, they put it in his account.  If he wrote a check, they took it out of my account.  Despite promises to straighten the mess out, they bounced my rent check three months in a row, and couldn’t understand why I went to another bank.

Smith is an easy and common name.  I once worked with a girl from three hundred miles away, by the name of Kauffeldt.  She met, here, and married, a 42nd cousin from the same area, also named Kauffeldt.  Talk about not having to change the initials on the towels.  I’ve got it under control now, but, for a time I thought of taking my little buddy’s name, Bftzplyk, and just pronounce it Smith.

28 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Sightsnbytes says:

    I feel your pain. My last name is White (originally LeBlanc) and we make up 3/4 of the phone book here in Newfoundland, and in the rest of the country as well. I once worked at a food store where they would refer to you only by your last name. When the boss paged ‘White’, thirty guys showed up next to him. Very confusing

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    • Archon's Den says:

      I didn’t realize White (or LeBlanc) was common on The Rock. I can’t remember meeting a Newf named either. The only White I remember was a smart-mouthed Ontario boy who ran a video rental shop.

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      • Sightsnbytes says:

        There was this guy I worked with once, he was a grouchy self centered jerk who always wore a sweater vest. His name was John Smith. Not only did he annoy everyone he met, he made it a point to try to make everyone’s day as miserable as his. Funny thing about last names…Don’t know any White who worked in a video store, he must have been one of those British Whites. They are a unruly crowd to say the least

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      • Archon's Den says:

        The kids from the housing project were throwing rocks on the flat roof of his store. He called the cops. The dispatcher told him there was no-one available. He told the guy to, “Get them out of the Tim Hortons, and send them over here.” He must have had almost as many friends as your John Smith.

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  2. I always thought my real name was unussual. I’ll use R.B.Hatch since that’s the name I write under. When I lived in Calgary, many years ago, there were only about half a dozen Hatchs listed in the phone book. Then we moved out here, where our population density is square miles per person rather than people per square mile, there are two other R.B.Hatchs within a hundred miles, one of them even has the same first name. Fortunately we all have different postal codes.

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  3. Archon's Den says:

    The best-laid plans of moose and men…. Jones and Smith are the two most common English surnames. I understand my problems. I live in a city, but three R.B.Hatchs within rock-throwing distance (almost) at the top edge of the continent – that’s just strange. With Santa on his way, I searched yesterday to find where postal code HOHOHO is. It’s about as far north as you, just east of the Manitoba border.

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  4. I grew up with a whole slew of both “John”s and “Jon”s, which made life interesting. But the real shocker came many years later, when I was reading a WW2 magazine and found out I had died! Yes, there was an author and expert on the USSR during WW2 by the name of Professor John Erickson. Explains quite a bit, when you figure I’ve been brain-dead since about 2003/2004 (I forget which. 😉 )
    There was an old joke I remember from college days. “My last name is Kowalski, spelled S-M-I-T-H. Don’t worry, all the letters are silent.” 😀

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    • Archon's Den says:

      As long as it’s not actually You who’s listed as dead. I’ve read a couple of recent accounts of folks some branch of the government has declared deceased. All payment and support stops. You can’t even pay taxes so that they won’t chase you later, when you and Christ are having some wine. You can walk right in to the office and state that you’re really alive, and some drone will point to the computer and say, “It says here, you’re dead.”

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  5. benzeknees says:

    I have the exact opposite problem – my legal name has such a weird pronunciation because my father filled out my birth certificate wrong. As soon as I became an adult I took another name (an aka). My maiden name was a very common 4 letter word, my first married name was a common English surname of 6 letters. My current husband’s name is German & is 10 letters long.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      I was supposed to be *John William* Smith, but my mother got confused by the paperwork, and “last name first”-ed everything. Legally I’m *William John*. The wife traded an 11 letter German name for a 5-letter one. There are a lot of German descendants here in the city which used to be Berlin, Ont. I ran your hubby’s German surname through the translator at Dictionary.com, and got back “by outplaying other top keepers.” If he speaks any German, that may make more sense to him than it does to me.

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  6. Jim Wheeler says:

    There is some advantage to the commonness of a name. My own true name is James Wheeler. When I was still a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, rank O-5 (Cdr.) I was pulled over by a state trooper for pushing the margin on speed and kept waiting on the roadside for some 20 minutes while he checked out my identity. It turned out that James Wheeler was wanted on a warrant for something – he wouldn’t tell me what. That is the only time I’ve ever been inconvenienced by my name. He gave me a verbal warning. That’ll teach me to be James Wheeler!

    I have since googled my name and found several others who share my nomenclature. One who even shares my middle initial is securely locked up back East for more than a decade. No relation. Let sleeping dogs lie, and thank evolution that names and genetics are not the same

    Good post, Archon.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      I’ve Googled my name, and found a guy with the same name and initial. He’s an ex-US Navy commander who now tours North America giving rah-rah self-help seminars. He’s been here to Kitchener at least twice. If I ever catch wind (see the naval reference?) of him coming back, I’ll make a point to meet him.

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  7. I went to school with a guy named John Smith, and he was always asked to show all kinds of ID because everyone thought he was being a smartass. My own name isn’t extremely common, but it’s common enough. It becomes a pain when I’m doing genealogical research on my family, though, because my last name is one of the most common names in Ireland. Almost like trying to find the right Smith family in a sea of Smiths. But at least I didn’t get anyone else’s anesthetic shot.

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    • When I worked for Ameritech, we had a department head whose name was John Smith. His second-in-comand was a woman. Oh, the Hell our secretary went through! “Yes, I’m booking for two people. The first one is Mr. Smith. Yes, the second is a woman. NO, she is NOT Mrs. Smith. Yes, that really IS her name!”. Poor Gloria, she had to fight with SO many reservation agents who just weren’t buying two people going to the same hotel under the reservation of “Smith” weren’t SOMEHOW pulling some hanky-panky! 😀

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  8. Archon's Den says:

    One of the son’s Irish co-workers went back to Ireland. One of the things he wanted to do, was look up ancestors. A local priest offered to help him with church records. He told the son that he turned down the offer because half of them were O’Neill, and his name was O’Neil. Duh!

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  9. Haha, I love this! I wouldn’t love all the name mix-ups though. My last name is Moran and for half of third grade my teacher kept squeezing a g in there to make it Morgan. I still get called that, or it’s mispronounced in some other way.

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  10. Archon's Den says:

    Tony seems to be the name. I worked at another plant with a Tony Mauser, who sat beside a Tony Maurer for sixth grade. Poor confused teacher. Yours might have called you Morant. That means steadfast. Here in *GermanTown* I get asked to spell Smith all the time. Das ist SCHMI…? und vat? Had a German boss who couldn’t pronounce Smith. Introduced me as Schmidt. Got mail from suppliers and customers spelled like that.

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  11. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Tony is one of the most popular names in the Hood! We have Tony, Big Tony, Big T, Lil T, Antonio, Anthony, and Anthony (pronounced Ant – knee). I have also met a: Journey, Destiny, Skye, Hope, Faith, Love, Jedi (not joking) and my favorite, a little boy whose name was Mister.

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  12. liorasophie says:

    Great post! I loved the telemarketing anecdote. I agree with a previous commenter who pointed out that there is an advantage to having a common name. I find it convenient to spell over the phone, and that people generally pronounce my name correctly. It makes it easier for people working desk jobs if they don’t have to guess the pronunciation of each name on their cold-calling list. We have a family legend that upon immigration to America from Ukraine, my great-great grandfather was asked what his name was, and replied “Vaht?” so it was put down as “White,” which is admittedly easier to pronounce than Woldorvsky.

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  13. kayjai says:

    My maiden name was very unusual, so we never got mixed up with anyone else. As for my first name, there was only the one infamous Ontario murderess. When I had to go to the hospital emerg. one day, the attending doctor asked me if I thought about changing my first name…you know, because of HER. Ugh…

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    • Archon's Den says:

      With your first name, I’ve always suspected a middle/eastern European surname. I’ve gotta remember to run hubby’s last name through Meanings Of Names some day. Are you guys ethnically from the same region? Some poor cigar-maker, Cuban ex-pat, living in Miami, is named Fidel Castro. Police continually trace phone numbers and warn a**holes who leave threatening messages, that there’s more than one of them in the world.

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      • kayjai says:

        No…Hubby is Irish, whereas, I am Scotch. Dad was a Nova Scotia fisherman ended up in Ontario and met Mom. Mom has some French background to go along with the German…My Dad’s family remained a mystery for quite some time until a woman in my Dad’s hometown wanted to use a picture of my Grandparents for her book. She then discovered my dad had children, which she didn’t know. She’s thrilled.

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      • benzeknees says:

        Not to be a buzzkill, but Scotch is a type of whiskey – you would be Scottish like me.

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      • kayjai says:

        My Dad always said Scotch…I just copied him, but I know you are right. You are not a buzzkill…

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  14. I remember the letter from the lawyer threating to sue you, because you cut down a tree on our street…. that Smith was a builder who live in Glen Morris. Apparently, the lawyer {ass}umed that since …Smith lived on the street where the tree was cut down; that must be the …Smith that did the dastardly deed.

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