David Bruce: Names Anecdotes


When Steve Wozniak graduated on June 14, 1986, with an engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he was valedictorian. The dean introduced him by saying, “This is a first. Usually we select the person who’s the most likely to succeed. This year we’ve done things a little backwards. Our speaker is someone who’s already succeeded and made his fortune. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Mr. Rocky Raccoon Clark, better known to you, perhaps, as Stephen Wozniak.” As one of the founders of the Apple Computer Company and as the designer of the Apple personal computer, Mr. Wozniak was both rich and famous when he decided to return to college to earn his degree. That’s why he chose to register under an assumed name. “Rocky Raccoon” was the name of his dog, and “Clark” was the family name of his then-wife.

Hillary Rodham kept her maiden name after marrying William Jefferson Clinton, but voters in Arkansas did not like this. When Hillary gave birth to her daughter Chelsea on Feb. 17, 1980, Arkansas newspapers reported that Governor Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham had had a daughter. Arkansas voters felt that reports should have referred to Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton, and they voted against Mr. Clinton in 1980 in his re-election campaign for Governor. Hillary Rodham then changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton and helped her husband get elected as Governor again in 1982.

Catherine Shipley and her father, Thomas Shipley, were Quakers. in addition, her father was involved in helping slaves escape to freedom in the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati. Once, Ms. Shipley was in New York, where she was helped by a black porter. She asked the porter his name, and she was surprised when he answered, “Thomas Shipley.” It turned out that Thomas Shipley had helped the porter’s father to achieve his freedom, and the porter’s father had named his son after Mr. Shipley.

Mahatma Gandhi’s name at birth was Mohandas Gandhi. “Mohandas” means “Slave of Mohan” — “Mohan” is another name for the Hindu god Krishna. Gandhi was a member of the Vaisya caste, members of which are such things as merchants, clerks, and small landowners. “Gandhi” means “Grocer.” “Mahatma,” of course, means “Great Soul,” but Gandhi was never comfortable with this name — it was conferred on him by people who recognized his spirituality.

During the Prohibition era, William Johnson of Oklahoma earned the name “Pussyfoot” by sneaking up on stills and bootleggers in the middle of the night. He sometimes beat up bootleggers, and he admitted that in order to get convictions he frequently lied under oath in court. According to Pussyfoot Johnson, when it came to combatting crime, “Ethics be hanged.” This attitude was tolerated.

Maria Tallchief’s English name at birth was Elizabeth “Betty” Marie Tall Chief, but she changed it so it would sound more exotic and theatrical to balletomanes. An advantage in combining “Tall” and “Chief” is that the “-ief” ending resembled the ending “-ieff” found so often at the end of Russian names — however, the correct Russian form of her name would have been “Tallchieva.”

Each year, the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America give the Nebula Award. Unfortunately, the Nebula Award that Isaac Asimov won in 1976 for Best Novelette reveals a problem that Mr. Asimov was faced with throughout his career — people find his name difficult to spell. The notation on the Nebula Award says that its winner is ISAAC ASMIMOV.

Shortly after becoming an author, Walter Milton Myers changed his name to Walter Dean Myers to honor the family that had adopted him when things got tough for his biological family. His timing was excellent. Florence Dean, his foster mother, died, but not before seeing the name “Walter Dean Myers” listed as author on a book.

When he was a young man, Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) spent some time as an actor in England. Of course, he took a stage name. Later, Mr. Jerome claimed to have met an actor whose real name was the stage name he had taken. Oddly enough, the actor’s stage name was Mr. Jerome’s real name.

In the early days of the United States, roads were poor and travel was difficult. An express line coach went 11 miles per hour — good speed in those days — but because of the poor roads the passengers were considerably shaken up, so they named the express line coach “Shake Gut.”

African-American poet and playwright LeRoi Jones changed his name to the African name Imamu Ameer Baraka. Imamu means “spiritual leader.” Ameermeans “blessed.” Baraka means “prince.” Later, he adopted a shortened version of the name: Amiri Baraka.

After Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, some of his opponents in the boxing ring continued to call him Cassius Clay. Mr. Ali responded by hitting them harder.

The construction workers for the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge included people who walked across narrow steel girders hundreds of feet high. These workers were called “bridge monkeys.”

When talk show host Oprah Winfrey bought a Chicago production studio in 1988, she named it “Harpo” because “Oprah” spelled backwards is “Harpo.”

Al Gore’s wife was named Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson at birth, but she received the nickname Tipper from a lullaby that her mother used to sing to her.

When Sir Walter Raleigh founded the first English colony in the New World, he named it Virginia to honor Queen Elizabeth I, aka the Virgin Queen.

After James M. Barrie was named a literary baronet, he became Sir James M. Barrie, Bart. His wards often called him the Bart.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., was a young man, he liked wearing fine clothing, so his friends gave him the nickname “Tweed.”

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik into space. “Sputnik” means “fellow traveler of the earth.

As a joke, his friends gave mild-mannered Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux the nickname “Mad Dog.”

Bobcats get their name from their tail. It is very short and looks as if it has been cut off — that is, “bobbed.”

While living at the White House, young Caroline Kennedy used to ride a pony named Macaroni.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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