David Bruce: Names Anecdotes


A family photograph of E. B. White, cropped from a photo of him and his wife. Source White Literary LLC

When Elwyn Brooks White, who is better known as E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, attended Cornell University, its president was Andrew White. As a show of affection, Cornell students nicknamed any student whose last name was White “Andy.” The nickname stayed with E.B. White throughout his life.

The formal title “Dalai Lama,” which was first used in the 1500s, means “Ocean of Wisdom.” The current Dalai Lama, the 14th, has several names. When he became the Dalai Lama in a religious ceremony, he gave up the name he was given at birth: Lhamo Thondup. In lieu of his birth name, he assumed the name Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. Westerners usually call him either His Holiness the Dalai Lama or Tenzin Gyatso. Tibetans call him one of these names: Gyalwa Rinpoche, Yeshi Norbu, or Kundun.

Lon Chaney, Jr. was the actor of the great Lon Chaney, who was known as the Man of a Thousand Faces during the silent movie era. Lon Chaney, Jr.’s real name was Creighton Chaney, but movie studios wanted him to change his name so the audience would know that he was the son of the Man of a Thousand Faces. For a long time, Creighton resisted changing his name, but movie studios declined to hire him until he did, so eventually he was forced to do as the movie studios wished.

Golfer Tiger Woods’ real first name is Eldrick, which was specially chosen by his parents, Earl and Kultida Woods. They took the first letters of their first names and put them at the beginning and end of Tiger’s real first name, his mother says, in order “to show that no matter what, we will always be at your side.” The nickname “Tiger” was given to him by his father to honor a South Vietnamese soldier who had saved him from being killed by a sniper.

Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma Jeane Mortensen. When her acting career required a more glamorous name, she chose “Monroe” because it was her grandmother’s last name. Movie producer Ben Lyon chose “Marilyn” because he liked and respected the movie actress Marilyn Miller. Later, when Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, she had the same first and last name as the actress who been the inspiration for her first name.

Evelyn Cornwall married John Carusso, then divorced him. Thinking she needed a name change, she considered a favorite television show, McMillan and Wife, starring Jill St. James. She telephoned the famous actress, asked for permission to use her last name, then legally changed her name and became Lyn St. James. The name change may have been lucky for her — she became only the second woman to drive a car in the Indianapolis 500.

Several major league baseball players, including Florida Marlin Alex Fernandez, Toronto Blue Jay Alex Gonzalez, New York Met Alex Ochoa, and Seattle Mariner Alex Rodriguez, once attended a Boys and Girls Club fund-raising event all at the same time. Mr. Gonzalez says, “Every time a kid said, ‘Hey, Alex,’ all four of us looked around.”

When Cassius Clay converted to Islam, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. His new name means “someone who is worthy of praise.” After taking his new name, Mr. Ali let it be known that he no longer wished to be called by his “slave name” — the name “Clay” had come from the owner of Mr. Ali’s great-grandfather.

When the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867, he was named Frank Lincoln Wright in honor of the recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. He changed his name after his parents divorced, and he took his new middle name from his mother, Anna Lloyd Jones.

While writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum needed to come up with a name for the magic land. He looked at a filing cabinet and saw three drawers listed A-G, H-N, and O-Z. O-Z? Problem solved. (Unfortunately, Mr. Baum’s wife says that this story isn’t true.)

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, used to be named Hathorne, but because one of his ancestors was John Hathorne, a justice at the Salem Witch Trials that resulted in the deaths of 20 people, he changed his name.

Herman Schaefer played in the major leagues in the first two decades of the 20th century. However, he changed his nickname during World War I. Instead of being known as “Germany” Schaefer, he was known as “Dutch” Schaefer.

Susan Butcher, a four-time winner of the 1,049-mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, had a dog named Crackers, so whenever he sired a new litter of puppies, she gave the puppies the names of various kinds of crackers.

Opera singer Mary Garden’s parents always wanted a boy, but they became parents to four girls. Before the girls were born, each was given the tentative name “Robert,” after their father.

Bette Midler used to perform before largely homosexual audiences and bill herself as “the Divine Miss M — everything you were afraid your little girl would grow up to be — and your little boy.”

Francis Hodgson Burnett, author of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, had an unusual nickname. Her friends called her Fluffy, and she sometimes signed her letters Fluffina.

Amanda Borden, captain of the gold-winning USA women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, became known as the Pepsodent Kid because of her big, warm, winning smile.

Soviet gymnast Nikolai Andrianov always kept his legs perfectly together when that was required in a routine. Because of his perfect form, coaches called him “Old One Leg.”

“Jimmy-by-the-way,” a caddie of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews in Scotland, got his nickname because he always introduced himself by saying, “I’m Jimmy, by the way.”

When she was a seven-year-old girl, soccer player Julie Foudy was called “Jimmy,” because she didn’t wear a top while playing with her brother and his friends.

Rap star L.L. Cool J can’t be accused of being humble. His initials “L.L.” stand for “Ladies Love,” so his full stage name is “Ladies Love Cool J.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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