David Bruce: Names Anecdotes

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In Korea, Colin Powell, then a lieutenant colonel, became known as Bro P as a result of an encounter with a black soldier who was intoxicated with either alcohol or illegal drugs. The soldier was holding a pool cue and yelling, “Somebody’s gonna die! You put my buddy in jail. Nobody’s gonna put me in jail. Somebody’s gonna die first!” Fortunately, Mr. Powell was able to talk the soldier into putting down the pool cue and surrendering before the MPs arrived, wrestled the man to the ground, and carried him away in chains. Instead of being put in a stockade for a year, the soldier was placed on restriction for several weeks, then resumed regular duty. Later, the soldier said about Mr. Powell, “That’s Bro P. Brother Powell. He’s all right.”

The first black President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was born Rolihlahla Mandela. In the language of his people, the Xhosa, “Rolihlahla” meant “pulling the branch of a tree.” Later, when he began attending school, his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name “Nelson,” possibly because Europeans found it difficult to pronounce African names. Later, when he was 16, he was given yet another name after being circumcised in a ritual that marked his coming into adulthood. His circumcision name was “Dalibunga,” which can be translated as “the founder of the rulers of the Transkei.” (The Transkei is a region in South Africa that is the Xhosa people’s traditional homeland.)

Some people are more fanatical soccer fans than others. In 1982, Trevor George of Penarth, Wales, showed his love for the game by naming his infant daughter after 20 world-class soccer players. The baby’s full name was Jennifer Edson Arentes no Nascimento Jairzinho Rivelino Carolos-Alberto Paulo Cesar Bretner Cruyff Greaves Charlton Best Moore Ball Keegan Banks Gray Francis Brooking Curtis Toshack Law George. His wife promptly responded by leaving home and having their daughter’s name legally changed to Jennifer Anne George.

One of filmmaker John Waters’ friends used to work at a movie theater, which meant that he constantly had to pick up the telephone and answer the question, “What’s playing today?” The friend reports that the most embarrassing title he ever had to say on the telephone was Eu te Amo, which is Brazilian for “I love you.” When he told them the title of the movie, some people were shocked and asked, “I beg your pardon?” Other people cursed him, and one person told him, “I hate you,” before hanging up the telephone.

The baritone Lawrence Tibbett once stopped at a record shop to buy a recording of his Prologue to Pagliacci. He asked for the record, but the sales clerk said, “There is no such recording.” Mr. Tibbett explained that he knew the record to exist, as he had made it, but the clerk insisted, “We have no such name on our list.” Mr. Tibbett then spelled his name, and at last the clerk knew it. She explained, “We call that Teebay. Do you really pronounce it Tibbett?” “Why not?” Mr. Tibbett replied. “I am an American, not a Frenchman.”

The mother of the great tap dancer Savion Glover, one of the creators of Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, knew he was special when she was pregnant with him. In fact, his name comes from a religious vision his mother had — she saw God writing a name on a blackboard: SAVIOR. She read the name, then said, “Now, You know I can’t name him Savior.” Therefore, she substituted an “n” for the “r.” To a great extent, Mr. Glover has been the savior of modern-day tap dancing, bringing it into the era of hip-hop.

Comedian Lotus Weinstock says that her name well represents the two sides of her personality. Lotus represents her spiritual side, and Weinstock is the side that busies itself with shopping. One of the messages on her telephone answering machine says, “Lotus is here, but Weinstock is out pursuing her earthly goals. Please leave your number and we’ll call back when we are at one.”

Joseph Cardinal Martin of Rouen once mistakenly called Pope John XXIII “Your Eminence” instead of “Your Holiness,” and apologized. Pope John XXIII told him not to worry; after all, in his career he had changed his title from Don Angelo to Monsignor to Your Grace to Your Excellency to Your Eminence to Your Holiness. The Pope added, “But now I’m through with changing titles.”

James Cleveland Owens was known as J.C. as a child in Alabama, but when his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, one of his teachers couldn’t understand his Alabama accent and misunderstood “J.C.” as “Jesse.” The name stuck, and in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, Jesse Owens won four gold medals in track events.

Peg Bracken knows that Hawaii was originally named the Sandwich Islands by Captain Cook. She wishes that they were still named that, because instead of remembering such names as Lanai, Maui, Kauai, we could instead remember such names as Ham on Rye, Egg Salad, and Pastrami.

In 1996, Jaycie Phelps won Olympics gold as a member of the United States “Magnificent Seven” women’s gymnastics team at the Atlanta Games. Her parents are Jack and Cheryl Phelps, and Jaycie got her name from the initials of her parents’ first names.

Sadye Marks was better known to her fans as Mary Livingstone, one of the stars of the Jack Benny Show— Mr. Benny was her husband. In 1947, she legally changed her name, for the very good reason that everyone, including her husband, called her Mary.

Elite American gymnast Kristin Maloney spells her name with an “i,” but when she was a child in school first learning to write her name, a teacher mistakenly taught her to spell her name with an “e”: Kristen. Today, she says that either spelling is OK with her.

When comedian Geraldine Ann “Geri” Jewell was born prematurely, there was a mixup about her name at the hospital. She was placed in an isolette on which was a chart labelled “JEWELL, PRECIOUS.”

When acerbic pianist Oscar Levant was introduced to famed actress Greta Garbo, he said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch the name.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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