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.

A Penny, Lira, Peso, Etc, For Your Thoughts

So, you were asking how it was that I began collecting foreign coins.  You weren’t??!  Well, get with the program here.  I’ve got an ego to support.  Alright, don’t beg.  I will reveal all.

Once upon a time….I like that opening so much more than, “In the beginning”!  My father had a few coins tucked away in a fireproof cashbox.  They included some old Canadian large-pennies, bigger than quarters.  They were fifty years old or more, I’m embarrassed to say I sneaked a few out to buy penny candy.  No wonder the store keeper was so happy to accept them.  In a fit of remorse, I bought a bunch back for him when I was in my forties, at a dollar apiece.

He also had a few foreign coins.  He may have just picked them out of pocket change, or he may have got them from servicemen returning from Europe when he was stationed in Halifax during W.W. II.  However he got them, as a Scottish child, I was always interested in money.  Money maybe, but not always coins.  I worked in a bank for almost a year.  An 18 year-old kid, and I walked seventeen $1000 bills a mile down the street one day, but still had no real interest in coins.

When I worked at the metal-fab plant, I liked to take my breaks and lunches with the guys in the plant.  If I stayed at/near my desk, there was always somebody asking, “Can you check this?  Can you phone this guy?”  As I’ve said, the list of nationalities working there was varied.  The other young guy in my department was born before me, during the Second World War, and was brought to Canada as soon as they could get out, after hostilities ended.  I asked him one day what country, and found that, by the time he emigrated; he had lived in three countries, and never left the house.  They kept re-aligning the borders.  His family was *German*, but he was born in Austria, then his village became part of Hungary, and finally settled in Czechoslovakia.

Especially around vacation time, I would hear guys say, “I’m going home to see my parents.” Or, “I just got back from visiting my grandparents.”  Often I would ask where – Poland, Portugal, Italy, Romania.  One day one of them said, “I’ve still got some coins left from the trip,” and pulled them out.  The first ones were Polish, I believe.  I oohed and aahed, and he asked, “Do you want them?”  I never saw the bus coming.  I said, sure.  Not even knowing what to do with them, I showed them to the wife, and left them on the dresser.

A couple of days later, one of the other guys said, “You took some Polish coins from Potrzebi, would you like my Portuguese pesetas?”  Oh great, can’t insult him.  Sure.  I went back into the office and commented on how I had just acquired coins from two European countries, and a newly hired female clerk piped up, “I just came here from Peru.  Would you like some Peruvian coins?”  Well, the genie’s out of the bottle now, might as well.

Now I started watching for foreign coins, and discovered that there were quite a few floating around, if you kept your eyes open for them.  I also started asking guys in the plant, “Going home to Jamaica at Christmas?  Bring me a few coins back.”

Strangely enough at that time, I could not find a local coin club.  There was one in the smaller city fifteen miles away, so, once a month I would drive over and attend a meeting.  They were concentrated on Canadian coins, with maybe some American, but there were always a couple of dealers with a slush-box which included cheap foreign coinage that I could buy for ten, or twenty-five cents each.  One night, at the club auction, I went wild and spent two dollars for a two-headed coin.  It’s a British, Churchill commemorative Crown, with the Queen on the front, and bull-dog Winston on the back.  It’s the only legal English coin with the face of anyone but a monarch on it.  They say Cromwell doesn’t count.  He was just a usurper.

As people found out about my foreign coins, I got more and more donations from people who got stuck with them in change.  My wife’s twenty-year-older sister was a Catholic nun who was a house-mother to foreign female teen-age students at an English convent boarding school.  It used to be a sign of good luck to place money in the wall of a newly erected building.  The convent decided that they wished the dining hall renovated, and the beautiful, old, dark, oak wainscoting was ripped off the walls.  Out rolled this thin, quarter-sized coin.

Our nun picked it up.  At first she thought it was something from a game, perhaps like Monopoly, something one of the girls had shoved in.  As she looked at it, she realized it was a real coin, worn till it was almost illegible, but real.  She saved it, and when her contract was up and she returned to Canada, she gave it to me.  It turned out to be a silver, Edward II, short-cross sixpence.  It was minted between 1547 and 1552, the years of his reign.  Back then, they didn’t date coins.  It’s badly worn, but still worth about $25.

I have coins from places like Russia, and Cuba, where coins aren’t legally allowed to leave.  Collecting foreign coins is an exercise in both geography and history.  Where’s that coin from?  South Pacific?  Where exactly?  British East Africa?  That’s Mali now.  French West Africa?  That’s Zimbabwe.

I have WW II coins, both from free France, with their Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite motto, and from German-occupied France, where the Nazi-imposed motto was Travail, Famille, Patrie – Work, Family, Homeland.

The best historical run of coins I have starts with the Weimar Republic, soon to be incorporated into the newly organized Germany.  I have pre-war German coins and Nazi-German coins. I have East German coins and West German coins.  I have re-unified German coins, and finally German-minted Euro coins.

I have over 500 coins, from over 100 countries, and still keep an eye out for more.  The Scotsman has found that money isn’t just for saving, or occasionally, grudgingly, for spending.  It can be fun, and educational.