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What’s in a name, more or less?


William Shakespeare in his famous play about the lovers, Romeo and Juliet, asks “what’s in a name?” And follows his inquiry with, “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” His question casts doubt on the power of a name. I don’t believe old William had it just right, at least according to a group of historians who meet every Thursday morning to ponder such weighty topics. On this particular Thursday, the noted and famed historians, included Trish Turner, Shirley Brown, Gary Kempf, Monie Matthews, Bruce Stith, Eriverto Sepeda, and finally, yours’ truly Gerry Fischer.

The subject of strange and unusual names came up which were either funny, mean-spirited, or embarrassing. It began with someone mentioning students we taught who had peculiar names. Monie mentioned the name “Asia,” saying he had no idea there were so many different spellings of that name. He mentioned a few, Asia, Asha, Aisia, Aysia, Aysha. Monie counted 18 different spellings. I mentioned a man named Poole who lived in Highland Park, where as a child, I lived. He and his wife had a child and named the baby boy after a much-loved uncle named Cess. The baby was Christened Cess Poole.

Trish remembered being at a place where a man perhaps from Pakistan or India, was named Gottapatti, or a variation, but a lady at a public address system called out, Got-a Potty, Got-a Potty, please come to the office. The archaeologist, Eriverto Sepeda, nicknamed Eddie, told of being interviewed as an archaeologist in Antarctica. The interviewer asked him if his first name was “E River To.” Bruce had heard of someone named Davison, who named his son Harley.

My mother had told me about a family in Drake, Kentucky named Hogg, who had three children, two girls and a boy they named I’m-a, Hogg, She’s-a Hogg, and He’s-a Hogg. Trish mentioned two families who were friendly with each other and sat in her church congregation, named Hamm and Collards. As soon as I heard that, I began hankering for a plate of ham and collards. Then, the conversation took a turn in an unusual direction.

I remembered our next-door neighbors, Gerri and Willy Stover, who put in a small but very productive garden every year. Their garden was not just productive, but neat and pretty. I knew they both worked the garden, and once when they were sitting on our front porch, I asked how they did that. Willy said it was done with constant and careful work with a hoe. I told him I would watch him the next time he hoed. He said, “I don’t do it; Gerri does. She’s the best hoer, in the neighborhood.” She emptied a can of beer on him.

About then, Gary spoke up and said, “That reminds me, I once saw a three-legged male dog, who lost a hind leg, and for obvious reasons couldn’t hike his leg.” We all sat spellbound wondering how the dog did his business. Gary explained, “He stood on his two front legs and balanced himself while he went.” I didn’t ask, but I wondered if when he did that, he needed an umbrella.

Eddie Sepeda came back with another story. It seems a brother who often messed things up, for some reason was asked by his sister to help her by naming her newly born twins. He gave a good deal of study to naming the boy and girl. After the anesthetic wore off, the lady began to question whether she erred giving him such an important job. The first chance she got she asked if he named the children, and he said he did. “What’s the girl’s name?” she asked. He answered, “Deniece.” She said, “That’s a good name, now what’s the boy’s name?” “De-nephew,” he answered.

Here we sat, nearly every person a historian and published writer, giving thought to and pondering over odd names, three legged dogs, and the proper care of gardens; and I don’t believe Billy Shakespeare knew squat about what’s in a name.