David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Names


• Elliot S! Maggin wrote many stories featuring Superman and Green Arrow. How did he get the exclamation point in his name? The first time it was a typo, but an editor named Julius Schwartz saw and liked the typo, so it stayed. Another name story: Author Jayme Lynn Blaschke is a guy, but lots of people seeing his name in print assume that the name belongs to a woman. Mr. Blaschke once submitted a story to Gordon Van Gelder, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but Mr. Van Gelder addressed his rejection letter to Ms. Blaschke. At a convention, Mr. Blaschke walked up to Mr. Van Gelder to introduce himself. Seeing Mr. Blaschke’s name card, Mr. Van Gelder immediately began apologizing even before Mr. Blaschke began to speak. Mr. Blaschke says, “More offense was assumed, obviously, than actually took.”

• At Dartmouth, Theodore Giesel became editor of its campus humor magazine, Jack O’Lantern. Unfortunately, after he hosted a noisy party the night before Easter, he was ordered to quit the position. Nevertheless, he kept editing the magazine as always — and writing and drawing for it. To keep the college dean from knowing that he was still working as editor, he began to use a pseudonym — his middle name, Seuss. Later, he added “Dr.” to his pseudonym and joked that he had saved his father a small fortune by not going to medical school, yet becoming a doctor.

• Young-people’s author Orson Scott Card, writer of Ender’s Game, and his wife name their children after their favorite authors. Michael Geoffrey is named after Geoffrey Chaucer. Emily Janice is named after Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson. Charles Benjamin is named after Charles Dickens. Zina Margaret is named after Margaret Mitchell. And Erin Louisa is named after Louisa May Alcott. By the way, when Orson was a child, he learned to read phonetically, and therefore he pronounced “knew” as “canoe.” That is the day that he learned about silent letters.

• Progressive journalist Molly Ivins’ name was actually Mary. The nickname “Molly” came from her childhood habit of burrowing like a mole among the books in her bedroom. She was a true original, once naming a dog “Sh*t” — I suppose for reasons that would be obvious if I had been acquainted with the dog. She was a master of the comic putdown, once writing about politician Dick Armey, “If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want drilling rights on that man’s head.”

• Late in his life, George Plimpton started to suffer from the effects of a lifetime dedicated to poor diet and a fondness for alcohol — and the production of much fine writing. In 2003, he collapsed while drinking at the Brook Club. Paramedics arrived, recognized him, and one paramedic started slapping his face and saying, “Hey, George! Wake up!” The maitre d’ of the Brook Club did not approve and said to the paramedic, “At the Brook Club, sir, we refer to him as Mr. Plimpton.”

• Ambrose Bierce was a very talented writer of short stories, a cynical man, and a native of Meigs County, Ohio. In his book The Devil’s Dictionary, he gives many cynical, but funny, definitions of common words. One example: he defines zoo as a “place where animals from all over the world come to see men, women, and children behave like fools.” Because of his great cynicism, Mr. Bierce acquired the nickname “Bitter Bierce.”

• When LeRoi Jones first became a successful African-American writer, his works seldom mentioned race. Therefore, when fellow African-American writer Langston Hughes wrote to him in 1959, he teased, “Hail LeRoi, I hear you are colored.” Later, Mr. Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka, and when people read his writing, which now focused on black themes, they had no doubt that he was “colored.”

• Adjusting to another culture can be difficult. Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz was born in Mexico, but when he was six years old, his family moved to the United States for a while. In school at lunchtime, young Octavio needed a spoon, but he didn’t know the English word for spoon, so he used the Spanish word: cuchara. As a result, he acquired a nickname: His classmates called him “Cuchara.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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