David Bruce: Names Anecdotes

Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt began performing at age five. She turned up missing as her family was eating at a dining club, so her mother went looking for her. She found the five-year-old Love on a baby grand piano, singing to the diners “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Of course, Love is an unusual name. She is named after a beautiful woman—her mother’s best friend in college. Love says that her mother’s best friend is actually very little like her. The best friend was 5-feet-11, with very long blonde hair and an hourglass figure. In contrast, Love is around 5-feet-3, with brown hair and, she says, “half an hourglass figure.” With a name like Love, she should be a natural in the romance department, right? Not quite. Everyone has to learn the romance stuff as they go along in life. Her first on-screen kiss occurred when she was 14 years old—and had not had a real kiss yet. Her first attempt at an onscreen kiss resulted in the director ordering her and her kissing co-star to practice for a while before they attempted a second kiss for the cameras.

Ira Dutton, aka Brother Joseph, worked among the lepers with Father Damien at Molokai, and he continued his work after Father Damien died. One thing that Brother Joseph requested from President Theodore Roosevelt was that he order a United States battle fleet to sail by Molokai during its around-the-world journey. Brother Joseph felt that the lepers would enjoy the sight of the ships. President Roosevelt sent the battle fleet to Molokai, and as each ship passed Molokai, it dipped its flag in salute. Brother Joseph was not a member of a religious order, and he once declined to become a priest because, he explained, “I am not fit.” However, he spent decades working among the lepers, and he once explained why he called himself Brother Joseph although he was a layman: “That is because I want to be a brother to everybody.”

Balanchine ballerina Allegra Kent was named Iris Margo Cohen when she was born, but anti-Semitism led to the change of her last name. Her mother simply got tired of being turned away by anti-Semitic landlords, and so when Allegra was two years old (she was born in 1937), her mother substituted “Kent” for “Cohen.” Her name change from “Iris” to “Allegra” came about because of her sister, who changed her name frequently after becoming sixteen years old. At one point she became Wendy Drew—“Wendy” came from Peter Pan, and “Drew” came from the Nancy Drew mysteries. Before she became Wendy, she made a list of names to choose from. On that list was “Allegra,” among other names. Iris liked the name “Allegra” so much that she became Allegra Kent.

Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker was known by the nicknames “Yardbird” and “Bird.” One story about how he got the name was that he enjoyed eating chicken, a bird that ran loose in many yards and was therefore called a yardbird. Mr. Parker would look at a menu, see chicken listed, then say, “Give me some of that yardbird.” Another story is that the car that he and some other musicians were riding to a gig hit and killed a chicken. Mr. Parker picked up the chicken and kept it, and once they had reached their destination he cooked and ate it. The other musicians teased him about this and called him “Yardbird,” which was later often shortened to “Bird.”

Albert Evans took over many of the roles danced by fellow African-American dancer Arthur Mitchell at the New York City Ballet, and many people were reminded of Mr. Mitchell when Mr. Evans danced. In fact, when Jerome Robbins was working with Mr. Evans on Goldberg Variations, he kept calling Mr. Evans “Arthur.” When Mr. Evans told him, “My name is actually Albert,” Mr. Robbins said, “OK,” then immediately slipped and said, “Arthur, can you move over here?” Mr. Robbins never did break the habit of calling Mr. Evans “Arthur” because, he explained, “You move just like Arthur.” This, of course, is quite a compliment.

Early in his career, Marvel comic-book maven Stan Lee wrote many, many comic-book stories, and he used a number of pseudonyms: Stan Martin, S.T. Anley, Stan Leen, and Neel Nats (Stan Leen spelled backwards). By the way, Mr. Lee’s real name is Stanley Martin Lieber. Because he wanted to get out of comic books later so he could write the Great American Novel, he decided to break his first name in two for his comic-book writing byline and save his real name for the serious writing he would do later. Fortunately for comic-book fans, Mr. Lee’s serious writing turned out to be his comic-book writing.

The protagonist of Paula Danziger’s book The Pistachio Prescription is named Cassie, whose problems include an addiction to pistachio nuts. Years after writing the book, Ms. Danziger met a woman who wanted her to autograph a copy of the book for the woman’s daughter, who was named Cassie. At first, Ms. Danziger thought the name was a coincidence, but the woman told her that she had named her daughter after the book’s protagonist. Ms. Danziger says, “It means a lot to me, especially since the book was so hard to write, that so many people love and identify with it.”

Late in life, blues musician Howlin’ Wolf is said to have not liked his name; however, it was preferable to other names he had acquired earlier. Born Chester Arthur Burnett, Howlin’ Wolf wore size-16 shoes. That led to him being called first “Foots” and later “Big Foot Chester.” Another blues musician named John T. Smith, who in 1930 had recorded a song called “The Howling Wolf” and had thereafter taken that name, was no longer famous when Big Foot was looking for a new name, so Mr. Burnett borrowed the name and kept it for himself.

When she was a child, Merrill Ashley took the study of ballet seriously and wore her hair in a bun even at school. Her school newspaper once made a list of notable personalities among the students, including Miss Popularity, Miss Congeniality, and Miss Hospitality. Young Merrill was Miss Bun.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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