David Bruce: Names Anecdotes

When illustrator Erik Blegvad was growing up, his mother always encouraged him. Mr. Blegvad writes that their home always had lots of art books, and his mother gave his artistic endeavors “only lavish praise and encouragement.” In July of 1947, following World War II, a more grown-up Mr. Blegvad went to Paris, France, to find work as an illustrator. He took with him a bicycle, many drawings, and 10 pounds of butter that his mother said was “as good as gold” because of food shortages. However, Mr. Blegvad arrived when Paris was full of partiers celebrating Bastille Day, and he partied along with him. When the days-long party with much dancing in the streets was over, his pockets were empty and his butter had melted. Fortunately, he found work quickly. (By the way, he and N.M. (Niels Mogens) Bodecker, his friend and fellow Danish illustrator, lived for a while in Westport, Connecticut, where in their studio they kept a large bulletin board on which they put a collection of letters and other documents bearing their names—which had been variously misspelled.)

Even when she was a young girl, Johanna Hurwitz wanted to be a writer. One of her favorite books was Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. She used to cover part of the cover of the book so that “Johanna” was visible and “Spyri” was hidden. That way, she could see her first name on the cover of a book, and she could dream about what it would be like to see both of her names on the cover of a book. Of course, Ms. Hurwitz’s dream did come true and she did get to see both of her names on the covers of some books because she became the writer of such children’s books as Aldo Applesauce and Russell Sprouts.

Many actors and actresses in pornographic movies do not use their own names. For example: In the theater, many actors have taken the name “George Spelvin” when they have not wanted to perform using their own name. The name taken by the lead actress of the XXX adult film The Devil in Miss Jones is an inside joke: Georgina Spelvin. Another example: One of the star actresses in the XXX adult film The Opening of Misty Beethoven is named “Constance Money.” She received the name because she was constantly asking for money.

At birth, ballerina Maria Tallchief’s name was Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. She changed “Tall Chief” to “Tallchief” because she wanted to avoid problems in alphabetization at school—other students wondered whether her last name was “Chief” or “Tall Chief.” Her parents called her “Betty Marie,” but when famed choreographer Agnes de Mille suggested that the world of ballet already had lots of Bettys and Elizabeths, Ms. Tallchief began to use the name “Maria” instead.

In 1953, macho actors Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra worked together on the film From Here to Eternity. Mr. Sinatra spent a lot of nights getting drunk, and Mr. Lancaster spent a lot of nights taking Mr. Sinatra home, undressing him, and putting him in bed. Because of this, Mr. Sinatra started addressing Mr. Lancaster by a special nickname: Mom. Later, Mr. Lancaster said, “He’ll find me on my birthday no matter where I am, and say, ‘Happy birthday, Mom.”

Edward Villella and other dancers called ballerina Melissa Hayden “Old Ironsides” as an affectionate mark of respect for her hard work and determination. One of the things she did to get energy for dancing was to inject herself with vitamin B12. One day, thinking Mr. Villella needed some extra energy, she told him, “Honey, take down your pants.” He obeyed her—and was rewarded with a needle in his butt.

When children’s author Jane Yolen and her family moved to a farm in western Massachusetts, she wanted to name it Fe-Fi-Fo-Farm, but her husband vetoed the idea, and they called it Phoenix Farm instead. However, their children had a wonderful idea: They wanted her to write about a giants’ farm. She did, and Tomie de Paola illustrated the book—which was titled, of course, The Giants’ Farm.

In 1926, P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, visited one of her writing heroes, the poet William Butler Yeats, in Dublin. But before visiting him, she first visited the lake called Lough Gill, where a boatman took her to what Yeats called in a poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Unfortunately, the boatman was not a romantic, and he called the isle what other, not-poetic people called it: Rat Island.

Many jazz musicians have wonderful nicknames. For example, Joe “Wingy” Mannone got his nickname after he lost his right arm in a streetcar accident. He learned to play the trumpet with his left arm only, and in 1948, he published his autobiography: Trumpet on the Wing.

Some children ask funny questions. Children’s book author Ann M. Martin, creator of the Babysitters Club series of books, was at a book signing when a young girl asked her, “Do you know what the ‘M.’ in your name stands for?” (By the way, it stands for Matthews.)

When he was a youth (and later), choreographer George Balanchine had a habitual sniff or facial tic that made him bare his front teeth. Other dance students noticed this, and they gave him a nickname: Rat.

At Birdland, emcee Pee Wee Marquette showed a lot of originality in introducing the musicians. For example, Mr. Marquette introduced one-of-a-kind jazz musician Thelonious Monk as “The Onliest Monk.”

When Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship fame had a baby girl, Ms. Slick said, “We’re naming her ‘god’ with a small g. We want her to be humble.”

All of the children of Bill and Camille Cosby have names that begin with E: Erika, Erinn, Ennis, Ensa, and Evin. Why? According to Mr. Cosby, because E stands for Excellence.

Pop artist Andy Warhol was a cat person. He and his mother kept a couple of dozen cats in the apartment they shared together. All of the cats were named Sam.

Sportswriter Franz Lidz, in collaboration with his wife, Maggie, named their daughters “Gogo” and “Daisy Daisy.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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