What's in a name?
July 8, 2013 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes the way you live your life is going to make a name for you, and sometimes your name is going to shape your life. Especially if your name is Harley Rider.
posted by HuronBob (70 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My fist got hard and my wits got keen,
I'd roam from town to town to hide my shame.
But I made a vow to the moon and stars
That I'd search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name.
posted by jaduncan at 4:59 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, but that awful name saved Rider's bacon at least once. Thanks for the smile, HuronBob.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:08 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, both amuse me.
posted by jaduncan at 5:11 AM on July 8, 2013

The interview carries a lot of the tone of Michael Bolton and the two Bobs.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 5:35 AM on July 8, 2013

There are two signs out in this area that, unless they are secured with some pretty strong materials, are going to disappear as soon as they are put up. Every few years, when Harley runs for office and the "Harley Rider for Township Clerk" go up, they are pilfered by bike riders on their way to Hell, and, the signs that say "Hell" with an arrow never stay around very long.
posted by HuronBob at 5:37 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Paging James English, University of Pennsylvania John Welsh Centennial Professor of... English.
posted by The Michael The at 5:43 AM on July 8, 2013

This is wonderful. I need to build a running list of stories like this, because I believe much stronger than most that ones name can have a giant effect on their life.

So I've debated mentioning this before, and now the time is right - My real name is Michael Jackson.

This happened because my Dad has a perverse sense of humor, my Mom didn't catch it, and neither had the foresight to see that naming a kid this in the late 70s would be something that would haunt me well into the present.

As you can imagine, this had some SLIGHT impact on my life. It still does.

This article ends with a quote close to what I wish I could have been told, and what I've wanted to be able to tell others: Kids, unless you’re stuck with a really, really weird name, live with it and love it. The thing is, I'd change the "unless" to "if".

My earliest years were blissfully unaware, but around 4th grade is when it caught up to me socially. Middle school was the worst, as it happened to coincide with the infamous pedophilia accusations. It took me well into my late teens before I learned to embrace it, and have fun with it.

My name is a blessing as well as a curse. It will never be forgotten, for better, or for worse. It played a large part into shaping me who I am today -- For better, as in I have a lot of endurance and a pretty warped sense of humor, and for worse, as I tend to think of people as petty and cruel, and I've been delayed a few years in emotional development as well. I can't blame my name for all of it, but I can for much.

As a kid, there were many things I dreaded:
- First day of school
- Getting paged over the intercom
- Prank calls (we all were required to be listed in a class directory)
- School dances (I avoided more than most)
- Substitute teachers
- Human interaction in general

It caused me a great amount of emotional pain in my youth, but in my adulthood, the worst thing that has happened was the occasional canceled reservation because someone didn't believe me.

I thought about changing it when I was younger, but as an adult, I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. Here's why:

- It has got me out of more speeding tickets than I can remember... Once I get past the barrier of my name not being believed, and they check my license and look back at me with that stupid grin on my face, they burst out laughing.
- It has accounted for more free drinks than I can remember.
- I'm pretty sure it has got my foot in the door for more than one interview.
- How someone reacts to the name when they first hear it is usually an accurate barometer for their personality.
- It's an instant conversation starter, and that alone has resulted in a good amount of dates and friends I would likely otherwise not have had.
- Traveling international is a BLAST... The name is known EVERYWHERE.
- Any encounter with authority figures strangely ends up going a lot better than it should.
- I have an instant out when being asked to watch over others kids - "Do you really want to leave your kids alone with Michael Jackson?" Gets a laugh, and I've never had to actually do it, so I guess it works.

I could go on and on about the pluses and minuses... more important than anything else, it taught me to have a sense of humor about myself, to not take everything so seriously, and to find the joy and humor in every situation.

All that being said, I still avoid Karaoke bars, and I dance incredibly poorly to the point that it's legendary amongst my friends - but I have fun doing it.
posted by MysticMCJ at 5:53 AM on July 8, 2013 [57 favorites]

Coincidentally, "A Boy Named Sue" is one of the only things I will voluntarily Karaoke.
posted by MysticMCJ at 5:54 AM on July 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

I recently encountered a government contractor with the last name Goodenough.
posted by olinerd at 5:56 AM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

It always frustrated me that I come from a family of great outlandish Southern names and peculiar nicknames, like Nap and Monkey and Trav and Roman and Boo, and ended up with an awfully plain name, Joseph Belknap Wall, after my namesake. My father was "Jones," "Rabbit," or "Taxi," but I was Joe-B, for obvious reasons.

My brother even got the perfect alliterative artist's name—Will Wall.

If I could pick one, though, through some sort of pre-birth cosmic influence, I would have stolen my cousin's name. He's a burly orange farmer in Florida, just an everyday, hard-workin' guy, and his actual given name is Dixie Royal.


P.S. My first high school science teacher was Howard High, who left my school (Atholton High) to go teach at Howard High. Some people have all the luck.
posted by sonascope at 5:56 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paging James English

Yeah, but John Welsh (nice moustachio) wasn't a professor of Welsh.

And why didn't the boy named Sue just get his named changed to Bill? (Or George! Anything but Sue!)

But I will admit that our veterinarian was Dr Badger.
posted by pracowity at 5:57 AM on July 8, 2013

I apparently descended from one "Muddy Creek McGee" -- There's apparently a tradition for rather "life-influential" names in my family.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:01 AM on July 8, 2013

One of my former managers was named Blaise Blastov, which looks mildly uncommon on paper, until you try to pronounce it: Blaze Blastoff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:02 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

One summer in high school, I worked as a lifeguard at a local lake's public beach, with the twin Cake sisters, Patty and Becca. They were pretty but dour girls, without much of a sense of humor, and they had this thing when meeting people, of nearly never introducing themselves directly, but of introducing each other, and then only by first name.
posted by paulsc at 6:09 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to know a dentist named William Harm. Mostly he went by Bill with his patients, but I always called him Doctor Will Harm.

As far as I know, he was an excellent dentist.
posted by helicomatic at 6:15 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The urologist who did all the vasectomies at the 121st Evac. hospital in Korea back in the early '70's was named Dr. Buck. We figured the vasectomies were a form of competition control so he could continue dominance of the herd.
posted by HuronBob at 6:23 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

My parents' family doctor and neighbor, to this day, is also (a different) Doctor Harm.
posted by The Michael The at 6:25 AM on July 8, 2013

Fact: When I was in high school, and half asleep, I had PBS on in the background and Mr. Rogers came on, and he was talking about his good friend who was coming to visit "Schoolbus Jones" (I don't remember the last name, but I swear I heard "Schoolbus") Which got me to thinking, hey, what a funny name, it ... Schoolbus actually goes well with my last name. Has a nice rhythm to it.

And so everytime I told someone I wanted to name my child this, they shook their head, and probably mentally facepalmed. And I had to tell them to "forget everything you know about what a schoolbus is... Just forget what it means. Just listen to how it SOUNDS." (I swear, I wasn't on anything stronger than pot every now and then).

It's a good thing I didn't have kids. The poor guy would be a bus driver who ended up being hit by budget cuts and having his hours reduced.
posted by symbioid at 6:33 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Atholton High

The Atholton High band director, I forget his name, but he didn't like me at all. He was frequently some kind of chaperone in joint county orchestra/band outings, and I was the instigator who always had a knack for picking up a bottle of vodka or a case of beer and throwing a hotel room party.

All-State Orchestra was in Ocean City one year, and I we had a big blowout in my room. One of the kids who was assigned to stay in the same room as me decided to stay elsewhere because he wasn't a drinker. Motherfucker peached on us, so the next morning, after breakfast, I came up to my room to find half a dozen men from all over the state beetling down on me. That Atholton dude was a hell of a bully, he brandished three leftover beer cans that he'd found in the ceiling of the bathroom, and I just looked at them like they were strangers, denying everything. Which made him mad, he turned beet red and started shoving me around, grabbing me by the arm and yanking me into the hall, until my own Wilde Lake High orchestra director came up from breakfast and was like, "Take your hands off my student."

In the end, my orchestra director was so pissed off about that Atholton dick's high-handed approach that no book was thrown at me -- he even played it off pretty softly to my parents and never mentioned it to our principal -- and I even learned a lesson, I think.

Please pardon the derail. I have last name even Germans find difficult to pronounce, but my first name is normal enough. I got called "Uncle Sam" a lot as a kid and it was somewhat trying when we read the book "My Brother Sam is Dead," and in college a Senegalese guy always called me "Sam Puissant" like it was an inside joke, but none of that is particularly unusual.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:36 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I caught five minutes of Indy Car on ESPN yesterday and guffawed at the existence of a human being with the name Will Power.
posted by longbaugh at 6:38 AM on July 8, 2013

Oh, my orthodontist was named Dr. Byron Bonebreak, he still practices.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:39 AM on July 8, 2013

The best name ever is the judge Learned Hand.
Only thing I remember from law school. Well, that and the lady who thought she was Batman and drove accordingly.
posted by angrycat at 6:39 AM on July 8, 2013

There's a dentist in town here named Dr. Carrion. And, you know, sometimes the name really does inform the destiny.
posted by jquinby at 6:41 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not a joke.

Also, my last name is Provost, and as an employee at a University with some interest in moving into Administration, there is a small but non-zero chance that I will one day be Provost Provost.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:42 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I knew a kid named Rob Banks. Not sure where he is now...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:42 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Damn you jquinby!
posted by Rock Steady at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2013

My mother's maiden name is Carol Singer. She cannot sing and she is Jewish, but my grandma thought it would be fun.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:45 AM on July 8, 2013

My father claimed to have met a Harry Rump (at a Hollywood pharmacy). (I doubt this story). No word on whether it was or not.
posted by lathrop at 6:47 AM on July 8, 2013

Also, there was a priest in Atlanta whose last name is Bishop. He was Father Bishop but was made a Monsignor and can now be called Monsignor Bishop. We figure he's a shoe-in for the episcopate someday. Archbishop Bishop would be just too excellent not to do.
posted by jquinby at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2013

Major Major Major Major.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:49 AM on July 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

My real last name is Fuckingbadass. It's been hard to live up to, but I've managed.
posted by etc. at 6:50 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

My orthodontist was Warren Butts. He was not peaceful with my mouth.
posted by notsnot at 6:50 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a Harley in my family, although the whole motorcycle thing has never come up.

Austinites may be familiar with the urologist Richard Chopp.

(Edit: oops, sorry Rock Steady, just saw your reference to this :) )
posted by hanoixan at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2013

The urologist who did all the vasectomies at the 121st Evac. hospital in Korea back in the early '70's was named Dr. Buck.

Would you believe a urologist named Dr. Cockburn?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:51 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My friend's girlfriend's aunt worked in a maternity ward and one of the new mothers named her baby La-a. The aunt asked how to pronounce that and she said Ladasha, of course!
posted by desjardins at 6:54 AM on July 8, 2013

Could you imagine stepping up to the medical offices of Cockburn and Chopp? There's a goldmine there.
posted by jquinby at 6:54 AM on July 8, 2013

My real last name is Fuckingbadass. It's been hard to live up to, but I've managed.

Unless your first name is Ima, Iwasa, or Youthinkyoura, this is meaningless.
posted by HuronBob at 6:59 AM on July 8, 2013

I used to work with a man named Guy Savage. Which, depending on the pronunciation would make him either a) a pulp action hero from the 40s, or b) a center for the Quebec Nordiques circa 1978.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2013

Oh, my orthodontist was named Dr. Byron Bonebreak

My orthodontist was Warren Butts.

My orthodontist? Dr. Ronald B. Gross.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:07 AM on July 8, 2013

I sort of want to name a daughter La–a just to annoy/confuse all the people who've parroted that particular urban legend. Problem is, absolutely everyone would misspell her name. ("It's La–a, not La-a, you idiot! At what point did I say my name was "Lahyphena"?)
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:14 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Classmate in elementary school: Bunker Hill.
posted by ambient2 at 7:23 AM on July 8, 2013

I am good friends with someone with a very similar name to Mr Harley Rider. A couple of years ago, his face got ripped off during an encounter with a curb when he spilled on his motorcycle. The doctors were able to reattach it, sort of.

Happy National Milk Chocolate with Almonds Day everyone!
posted by item at 7:40 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dentist was named Dr. Pang.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2013

I went to primary school with a Kurt Russell. However, the actor's oeuvre wasn't popular with tweens in the early 90s, so it was very confusing when adults found the name really funny. To us, it was just Kurt's name.
posted by mippy at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2013

There was a girl that attended our church named April Showers. The name actually worked for her, she was very kind and always happy.
posted by HuronBob at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2013

My fave was a guy whose name is Richard Longing but he wanted everyone to call him Dick. He owned a business so there was a billboard at the highway entrance with his name in 20 foot letters. Dick Longing.

For me, the name went past cheap jokes and into the realm of poetry. I imagined a deeply closeted southern man sitting in his office with a big smile, daydreaming of dances with Priapus.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:09 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I caught five minutes of Indy Car on ESPN yesterday and guffawed at the existence of a human being with the name Will Power.

He's been second in the IndyCar Championship the last three years.

You think he'd need just a little more....
posted by eriko at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

How can you bring up auto racing without mentioning Dick Trickle?
posted by desjardins at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2013

There's a dentist office down the road from where I live operated by the Drs Chew (a married couple, I think.) They get good reviews but I've never been. If I were picking a dentist and expense were no concern, I'd absolutely pick the couple with the mutual love of teeth and a sense of humor!
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:49 AM on July 8, 2013

There was a very nice OBGYN doctor who was on staff at Cross Country meets in Southern California to help female runners by the name of Dr. Skankey. My friends at the time thought it was hilarious.
posted by cell divide at 8:58 AM on July 8, 2013

I caught five minutes of Indy Car on ESPN yesterday and guffawed at the existence of a human being with the name Will Power.

Don't forget Scott Speed.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:23 AM on July 8, 2013

My maiden name was Plante, pronounced, well, plant. Which threw people off, they'd want to say Plahn-tay or Plant-ee. I'd get asked at job interviews if I was related to Robert Plant (no) or Jacques Plante (yes). But that wasn't the worst of it; the worst was the constant, never-ending stream of jokes about what kind of plant I was, or when I was going to grow green leaves, etc. My dad was in the military and we moved around a lot, so between the ages of 5 and 12 I started new in five different schools, and went through this every time. By the age of 12 I was so weary, and had heard it so many times, that this time I just sat quietly while the kids went on and on, no doubt thinking they were clever and original. When they finally wore themselves out, I pointed out that I'd heard all their jokes before, mentioned the ones they'd missed, and asked them if they were finished. I was greeted by silence and not teased about my name again, since the next time I met all new kids was high school and by that age we had more or less moved on.

That's the story I tell when someone asks why a woman who considers herself a feminist would take her husband's name on marrying. It's not the actual reason, but it shuts them up.
posted by jennaratrix at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2013

My husband often comments on his professor of Victorian literature at UConn: Victoria Read.

The first curator of the textile museum in my town was Laura Knott Twine.

As far as simply funny names go, we've spent a good bit of time laughing at "A. Duie Pyle," the founder of a very well-known trucking company in the northeast. He really should have gone into the porta-potty or fertilizer business.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:23 AM on July 8, 2013

Following up on Harley Rider, there is/was a professional wrestler named Harley Race.
posted by Xurando at 10:47 AM on July 8, 2013

My last name is Muller, which explains why I am so pensive. Also why I make such good cider.
posted by sarastro at 11:23 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was a lawyer in the town where I grew up whose last name was Bias. I couldn't believe anyone would go to him.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 11:28 AM on July 8, 2013

I have two aunts named Rose Busch, but they both married into it. (there were a few more up the family tree as well)
Also two relatives named Dick Johnson (though one goes by Rick).

I was teased a bunch growing up about Busch (for the various possible meanings - SEVERAL middle of the night phone calls in college with people drunkenly proclaiming that they "need some bush right now!"), but not as much as others in my family likely were.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2013

I once knew a man named Bunker Hill who named his son Bunker Paul Hill. To avoid confusion, the boy was "BP" (which is so awkward to pronounce that I bet just used the all-purpose "Bud").
posted by she's not there at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2013

And of course we can't forget Harley Quinn, who's name so shaped her destiny that she became an obsessed supervillianess associated with The Clown Prince of Crime.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:49 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a friend whose given name was Robyn Graves. Is it really surprising that her favorite story was about introducing herself to Dave Vanian & Captain Sensible from the Damned...
posted by rock swoon has no past at 1:04 PM on July 8, 2013

I once worked with a woman whose last name was Nomer. I asked her if anyone had ever teased her about being "Miss Nomer". She said no, most people did not know that word, so she didn't hear it very often. She then told me that she had just gone through a messy divorce, and I shouldn't call her Nomer anymore.

I felt bad about it, but I laughed anyway.
posted by Quonab at 2:26 PM on July 8, 2013

I'm amused that he knew an April May LeJeune.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:31 PM on July 8, 2013

I went to high school with a poor devil called Michael Hunt, the teachers were generally pretty good about calling him Michael, but at Year Nine prize giving the doofus PE teacher acting as MC calls out "and the award for Social Studies goes to Mike Hunt" and the entire assembly loses it. I swear you could see the therapy bills racking up as he made his way up the stairs to get his piece of paper.
posted by fido~depravo at 2:36 PM on July 8, 2013

I went to high school with a poor devil called Michael Hunt

He didn't happen to go into law enforcement, did he?
posted by radwolf76 at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2013

My first name is Duncan and I grew up on the East Coast of the USA. I hated the name for what should be obvious reasons and actually went by Dan.

The name is lovely as an adult; the biggest disadvantage is that I'm terrible at remembering other people's names and have been known to rant about namespace issues because of every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Unfortunately, aside from occasional MacBeth jokes the name isn't funny.
posted by caphector at 4:48 PM on July 8, 2013

Yeah, I went to school with a Michael Jackson; hard enough to have that name, but he also had a serious congenital disorder, which made his life harder still.

I also went to school with a girl whose last name was Butts. But it certainly isn't now.

I've also noticed recently that there's a highly rated eye doctor in my area whose last name is Blinder. Heh.
posted by limeonaire at 9:11 PM on July 8, 2013

So I've debated mentioning this before, and now the time is right - My real name is Michael Jackson.

Woah, the same as the well known author of: "Problem Frames and Methods: Analysing and Structuring Software Development Problems"?!

[I found a copy of his 'Systems Development' in a skip about 25 years ago, my best find ever!]
posted by titus-g at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2013

I also went to school with a girl whose last name was Butts.

Same here. In my case she ran for class president against a boy whose last name was Dicks.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:47 AM on July 9, 2013

Oh, you want to know who won?

Sophomoric humor.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:47 AM on July 9, 2013

« Older Explore a new world each month with Illustrated...   |   Eight Years and Counting Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments