David Bruce: Names Anecdotes

• While writing her children’s book, The 18th Emergency, Betsy Byars wanted a good, original name for the bully — she felt that she had used the name “Bubba” too often for the bullies in her books, although she had known a real bully named Bubba when she was a child. She thought hard and came up with the name “Marv Hammerman,” which she liked because of its hardness. Because she thought the name was original — after all, she had just thought it up — she wrote in the book, “There had been only one Hammerman, just as there had been only one Hitler.” One day, she received a telephone call, and the caller told her that he was Marv Hammerman. At first, she thought that the caller was joking, but he was really named that. What’s more, he was a teacher who had read her book to his class, and his young students were delighted to hear that there were twoterrible Marv Hammermans.

• Stan Freberg’s ancestry is Swedish, but despite not being named Johnson, he comes by his name honestly. When his grandfather, Paul Johnson, came to America, the immigration official told him, “What? Not another Johnson? Do you know how many thousands of Swedes I’ve logged in here with the name of Johnson? Forget it! What don’t you change it to something else?” Mr. Johnson thought about what name he wanted the immigration official to put down in writing, and because his mother’s name had been Elna Friberg, he spelled her last name for the official, who pronounced it Fry-berg. Mr. Johnson explained that in Swedish the iwas pronounced e, as in Free-burg. The official said, “OK, Freberg,” wrote down the name, and the newly named Paul Freberg began life in his new country.

• Eleanora Fagan was born on April 7, 1915, in Baltimore, Maryland. Later, her mother, Sadie Fagan, married her father, Clarence Holiday, and Eleanora Fagan became Eleanora Holiday. As a youngster, she admired film star Billie Dove, and so she began calling herself Billie Holiday. As a young woman, she started singing and waiting tables at clubs where the other women would pick up their tips with their thighs. Billie declined to do that, and the other women taunted, “Look at her — she thinks she’s a lady.” Billie then became known as “Lady.” After Billie become a well-known jazz singer, saxophonist Lester Young shortened her last name, using only its last syllable, and so Eleanora Fagan, aka Billie Holiday, became known as “Lady Day.”

• Children’s book author Tomie dePaola has an oddly spelled first name. At first, it was spelled the normal way, but little Tommy was a talented child who was sure to grow up to be famous, so a famous cousin of his mother — Irish tenor Morton Downey — gave him the new, unusual spelling. According to Mr. Downey, “He’s got to have an unusual spelling for his first name so people will remember it.” Everyone respected the new spelling for his name, except for his teachers at school, who made him spell it “Tommy,” because that was the “correct” spelling.

• Very early in her career, American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to get one of her paintings in the prestigious Salon exhibition in Paris. She felt that the judges selecting which paintings would be hung in the exhibition favored foreign artists, so she submitted a painting that was signed only with her first and middle names — “Mary Stevenson” — because she knew that her middle name sounded more foreign than “Cassatt.” The idea worked. Her painting was selected to be hung in the exhibition.

• Stanley Kirk Burrell is better known as rapper M.C. Hammer. “M.C.” is a slang way of saying “Rapper,” and “Hammer” is a nickname he was given when he became the Oakland Athletics batboy after Charley Finley, the owner of the Athletics, saw young Stanley singing and dancing in the Athletics parking lot. Stanley resembled home run hitter Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, and so he was called Little Hammer.

• When Luciano Pavarotti decided to make a movie, he met with the movie’s producer to discuss the name his character should have. The meeting was held in Giorgio Fini’s restaurant, and the food that day was cooked especially well — so well, in fact, that Mr. Pavarotti decided to name his character — with Mr. Fini’s permission — Giorgio Fini. The movie was titled Yes, Giorgio.

• Jazz singer Anita O’Day was named Anita Belle Colton when she was born. She took the name O’Day because in pig Latin it means “dough,” and she hoped to make a lot of dough as a professional walkathon contestant. (During the Depression, people tried to make money winning marathon walks, where they walked for days in front of an audience with only occasional 15-minute breaks.)

• Babe Ruth was terrible at remembering names, and he was sometimes terrible at remembering faces. Miles Thomas had been a Yankees pitcher for three or four years, but one day someone decided to have some fun and introduced Mr. Thomas to Babe as a new Yankee pitcher. Babe told Mr. Thomas, “Nice to see you, kid. Welcome to the Yankees.”

• Many people wonder where actor/writer Quentin Tarantino got the name for his hit movie Reservoir Dogs. It comes from the days he spent as a video store clerk when people often asked for Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants. Mr. Tarantino had difficulty pronouncing the title, so he ended up calling it Reservoir Dogs.

• When Nat Cole was a young entertainer, he needed work. To get one job, he was forced to wear a gold paper crown and call himself “King” Cole. As soon as he could, he got rid of the crown, but forever after, he was known as Nat King Cole.

• Michelle Kwan’s father, Danny, is a fan of music by the Beatles. In fact, he liked the Beatles’ song “Michelle” so much that he named his second daughter after it.

• Dorothy Parker once owned a black French poodle she named Cliché because at the time black French poodles were very popular in her neighborhood.

• One of the people participating in the CB radio fad of the 1970s was First Lady Betty Ford. She used the CB handle “First Mama.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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