Fortune and Fame of Unfortunate Names
ANOTHER professor has exhausted the days and the funds of his federal grant, and his extensive report is at hand. He urges that parents exercise more care in naming their children, as an unfortunate name can cause later hang-ups and prevent a genius from attaining his potential. And so forth and so on. At once I thought of Wilberforce Throckmorton Frothinghurst III, who was in school with me back in the ABC days. We always called him Stinky. This professor needs to know that Stinky's unfortunate name did not deter him from fame and fortune. This was mostly because his father owned a couple of banks, sat on several boards, was in the stock exchange, and held 80 percent of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The family chauffeur would come every afternoon at school-out in the Pierce-Arrow, and we boys, full of pity f or Stink's unfortunate name, would watch him ride away and think how grateful the kid must be that we called him Stinky. As I recall, Stinky got to be governor.
This professor should have had more time and money. Well, notice if you please that in the Oxford Companion O.Henry is listed under Henry, O. For that matter, Mark Twain will be found under Twain, Mark. Here are two fine names chosen, not by parents, but by the lads themselves after they decided their parents had erred, and O.Henry and Mark Twain are hard to fault. Yet, there they are - Henry, O., and Twain, Mark. William Sydney Porter and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, if you please, are found u nder William Porter and Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Further, have you ever seen any kind of book review, written by selected talent, that didn't call Samuel Langhorne Clemens ``Mr. Twain?'' Mister Twain, indeed.
If his conclusions err, nonetheless the professor's subject delights. It was, for instance, George Eliot, not Alice Eliot, who wrote ``Silas Marner.'' Mr. Eliot (alias Mary Ann Evans) also wrote ``Adam Bede.'' Ms. Eliot was Sarah Orne Jewett, and we may well wonder what perverse notion caused anybody named Sarah Orne Jewett to opt for Alice Eliot. (By the by, George Sand, who was Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, once wrote something or other called ``Lui et Elle.'' Or maybe it was ``Elle et Lui.'' Don't try to find it under ``Mr. Sand.'')
Back in my growing-up, our town had a considerable family named Coombs. They were all good people, and successful. The names used in the Coombs family started with three brothers - John, James, and William. They went into far countries and took unto themselves wives, and proliferation ensued. Each of the three brothers sired more than three children, but each had a James, a John, and a William. So there was Bill's Jim, Bill's John, and Bill's Bill. Also Jim's John, Jim's Jim, and Jim's Bill. And so on, and in the next generation were Jim's Jim's Jim, Jim's Jim's Bill, and so on. And so on.
The Coombs family by my time was as repetitious as the Bible's begats. I used to fish Potters Brook with Jim's Bill's John's Jim's Bill Coombs, who was excellent company. He used to call me Pie-Face. I suppose the Coombses didn't think of names as plus or minus, one way or another, but wouldn't it be fun to watch that professor pondering about them?
IN my own family, we had a curious generation. All the boys, except one, were named from the Bible. There was Ezra, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, Aaron, David, Abraham, and Charlie. Charlie came to no good. His name, undoubtedly. He thieved a good bit, and when he began to sell insurance he didn't turn the premiums over to the company. But if it hadn't been for Charlie, all the others would have starved. Even while he was in prison he managed to send regular checks.
As to the girls - they were named Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Vashti, and Harry. Harry changed her name to Carmelia Parsadiel Fiorrenzia and sang contralto for the Met. Which goes to show. Can you imagine, even if you are a professor, that the Met would ever hire a contralto named Harry? On the other hand, I refer you to Juliet - what's in a name?
There used to be an Increase Whitney lived neighbor in my grandfather's time. I never knew Increase, but always thought she was a woman. She wasn't. He fought at Gettysburg with my grandfather.