"What's in a name?"
Whose line was that, anyway?
It was Shakespeare's lovely Juliet, and the quote continues, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
I've always been fascinated by names and have written about them from time to time. I check the papers daily and notice that many traditional given names have fallen by the wayside in favor of interesting and sometimes even bizarre concoctions that seem to have been snatched from an alien lexicon. Don't misunderstand me. I embrace diversity and creativity.
This bit of Sunday trivia will be about middle names. Convention in our country dictates that we have a first name, a middle name or initial and a last name. But that's often not the case. Many people are given more than one middle name; others are given none at all; and still others have just an initial. If you think about it, there are many variations on the theme.
We didn't celebrate it as we do a national holiday, but I feel obligated to inform you that three months ago, we missed mention of Middle Name Pride Day.
Never heard of it? I'm here to amuse and educate you. Perhaps you can mark your calendars to celebrate it next year on the Friday of the first full week in March. That week, by the way, has been designated as Celebrate Your Name Week. I can sense your wide yawn.
Jerry Hill claims to be the founder of the day and asks all of us to spend that Friday telling at least three other people about our middle names. I might forget to do that in March 2011, so I'll get it out of the way today. Requa, that's my middle name. It honors my mother's maiden name and three French Huguenot Requa brothers who came to the New World to settle near Tarrytown in 1678. When my first son was born, I gave him the same name. When Kaye had our son Gregory, she opted to leave out any middle name.
I spoke recently by phone with a car salesman from New England. His first and middle names are George and Joseph. He revealed a bizarre coincidence. He married a woman whose father was also named George Joseph and had another male relative with identical names. Go figure.
My friend Jack Glasgow informs me that his middle name is Paul. He is technically John Paul III. He laughed when I opined that he is in pretty high-class company. He added a couple more twists to his personal appellation history. His dad inadvertently enrolled young Jack in school as John Paul Jr. when, in fact, the elder Glasgow was himself a junior. To further complicate the matter, Jack's birth certificate identifies him simply as John Paul Glasgow. He says that put him in a bind when he applied for a passport because he had been using "Jr." on all his official papers, including his record with the Marine Corps.
My older brother Jim was named James Russell Little to honor the poet James Russell Lowell. Our father was named Gordon Eugene Russell Little, but always signed his name as Russell E. Little, dropping his "real" first name. Some people say they are embarrassed by their middle names. My wife, Kaye, was named Catherine Mae Vaughan. Her dad always called her Mae and one or two of her offspring do that to this day. I call her "darling."
That brings me to one of my favorite quotes. A Lutheran pastor named Dennis Fakes said, "Any child can tell you that the sole purpose of a middle name is so he can tell when he's really in trouble." I laugh out loud every time I think of my own mother in that situation and countless others throughout history.
How many middle names of these famous people can you recall? Frank Wright, Mary Moore, John Booth, Sally Raphael and James Jones. (Answers: Lloyd, Tyler, Wilkes, Jessy and Earl.) I read once that at least 20 million Americans use one of their given names other than the first. Here are a few for you to think about: George G. Liddy, George K. Griffey, Henry W. Beatty, Orvan G. Autry and Henry L. Gehrig.
No, President Harry Truman did not have a middle name. The "S" in the middle is just a letter. Yes, Ulysses S. Grant did have a middle name. The "S" stood for Simpson, his mother's maiden name. But hold on, history tells us that he was really born Hiram Ulysses Grant. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Let's relax and sing along with a few choruses of "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis from 1964.
Have a great day and please, drive carefully.
Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.