David Bruce: Names Anecdotes

• When she was a child, Joanna Kathleen Rowling, aka Jo, became friends with two kids in her neighborhood: a brother and sister named Ian and Vicki Potter. Ian liked hijinks and dares. He once dared Vicki and Jo to run through some wet cement—they did. Of course, Ian and Vicki’s last name became the last name of J.K. Rowling’s most famous literary creation: Harry Potter. As an adult, Ian read the Harry Potter books out loud to his children. He remembers how he, Jo, and Vicki would play dress-up when they were kids: “And nine out of ten times, it would be Joanne who had the idea, and she’d always say, ‘Can’t we be witches and wizards?’” J.K. Rowling’s own last name has led to her having lots of nicknames: Jo Rolling Pins and Miss Rolling Stone. When she taught English as a second language in Portugal, her students sometimes sang the theme song from the TV series Rawhideto her: “Rolling, rolling, rolling … keep those wagons rolling!”

• When pitcher Greg Maddux broke into the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs, he received the nickname “Batboy” because of his youth. In 1987, he acquired a new nickname. In the 8th inning of a tie game with the San Diego Padres, Mr. Maddux was put on base as a pinch runner. Shawon Dunston hit to left with Mr. Maddux on second base with two out. Mr. Maddux rounded third and headed for home, where it looked like he would be thrown out. Benito Santiago, catcher for the Padres, bobbled the ball, and Mr. Maddux slammed into him for the run. The Chicago Cubs won the game that day, and Mr. Maddux’ teammates started calling him “Mad Dog.” (And the press started calling him the “Baby-faced Assassin.”)

• Before becoming a famous comedian, Sid Caesar was a jazz saxophonist. He played with Gene Krupa’s band, along with pianist Teddy Napoleon and Teddy’s sister, Josephine, who was the vocalist. One day, Sid, Teddy, and Josephine were driving to a gig, and a police officer stopped them. Teddy was driving, so the police officer looked at his driver’s license. He was amused by Teddy’s last name, Napoleon, and Sid laughed and said that his name was Caesar. The police officer looked at the only woman in the car and said, “And I suppose you’re Josephine.” Teddy’s sister replied, “Yes, how did you know?”

• Mary Effie Lee was serious about her writing. In fact, at age 11 she wrote a “novel” that was all of three chapters and four pages long. Actually, she is better known as Effie Lee Newsome, the name under she published collections of poetry for children such as Gladiola Garden: Poems of Outdoors and Indoors for Second Grade Readers. When she married the Reverend Henry Nesby Newsome, she took his last name and dropped her first name. Why? She explained, “Because four names in a row would be like the long row of houses on our street in Philadelphia.”

• Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish make up the Chicago rap duo known as the Cool Kids. Actually, “Mikey Rocks” is a pseudonym. His real name is Antoine Reed, but he chose his stage name because of his youthful hero-worship of NBA star Michael Jordan. When Mr. Reed had to choose a stage name, he regarded it as an opportunity: “As a little kid, I would try to change my name to Mike, like write it on papers and I would tell my mom to call me that but she wouldn’t do it, so I just saw this as my opportunity to have the best name that I could possibly have.”

• Teenage mega-pop star Miley Cyrus was named Destiny Hope Cyrus at birth, but her always smiley face led to her being nicknamed first Smiley and then Miley. After becoming a huge star in Disney’s Hannah Montana TV series, she had her name legally changed to Miley. Her father is country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, best known for “Achy Breaky Heart,” and Miley has always been around music. Her first memory is of an all-star concert where superstars such as Aretha Franklin made a fuss over her.

• Chicago-born artist Judy Cohen ended up choosing to use a different name: Judy Chicago. She worked in California, and because she had a heavy Chicago accent, lots of her fellow artists called her Judy Chicago. In addition, lots of artists in Los Angeles used underground names in the telephone book listings, so Judy used “Judy Chicago.” Her name does have a major advantage. When she returns to Chicago and tells people her name, they exclaim, “What a great name!”

• Robert Towne wrote the screenplays for such classic movies as Chinatown and The Last Detail. His paternal grandfather had worked as a tanner in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but left because of the cold winters and came to California. In San Pedro, he opened a women’s clothing store that was named the Towne Smart Shop, and when people started calling him Mr. Towne, he began to use “Towne” as his surname and passed the name down to his descendants.

• Like other actors, Archibald Leach took a new name. He had played the role of a character named Cary Lockwood, so he took the name “Cary.” He needed something shorter than “Lockwood” so it would easily fit on a movie marquee, so his movie studio produced its list of short, Anglo-Saxon names that it kept on hand for actors with Archie’s problem, and Mr. Leach read down the list, decided that he liked the name “Grant,” and so he became Cary Grant.

• When Elizabeth Taylor was 14 years old, she became a sensation by starring in the movie National Velvet. When renowned portraitist Yousuf Karsh arrived to photograph her, she was playing with one of her newest pets: a cat. Mr. Karsh named the cat Michael. The next day, both young Elizabeth and Mr. Karsh was on the MGM studio lot, and Elizabeth had her cat with her. She called out to Mr. Karsh, “Look who I have with me: Michael Karsh Taylor.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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