Names: changing, remembering

Archibald Leach

namesI’ve been thinking about names a lot. In my Bible reading, God’s often renaming people. “Abram, you’re now Abraham.”
“But, God, why would you make my name longer? Won’t take up more papyrus when people write about me in a few millennia?”
“Abraham, I created papyrus. Don’t sweat it.”

And when the Holy Spirit – ah – puts Mary with child, will she and Joseph have any say in the naming? They will not. Some angel shows up and says, “Mary, you’re gonna conceive, give birth to a son, and you’re gonna call him Jesus.” Joseph and Mary were thinking, “But we have no one named Jesus in our families.” They didn’t say this aloud, of course, because when angels show up unexpectedly, you tend to keep some of your thoughts to yourself.

The idea of changing one’s name is an old one. Popes always do that. I have no idea who Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin was, but I’m familiar with George Sand. Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, John le Carré are all familiar noms de plume.

I’m fine with people changing their names when it’s their choice. Actors have been doing it forever. I used to be really good at remembering that trivia. Maurice Micklewhite? Michael Caine. Archibald Leach turned out to be Cary Grant at least five times in Jeopardy! clues. Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson. Would John Wayne be JOHN WAYNE if he were billed as Marion Morrison?

George Terebeychuk, a Ukrainian immigrant in Sudbury, ON Canada, changed his surname to Trebek, as his cousin Mike had done. George was Alex Trebek’s dad.

He’ll be back

Still, I was oddly pleased when a bodybuilder named Arnold Schwa…something-or-other decided to keep his moniker, which the so-called tastemakers thought was career-killing. Schwarzenegger, that’s it. According to Box Office Mojo, films in which he has acted “have grossed a total of more than $1.7 billion within the United States, and a total of $4.0 billion worldwide.”

I recall real antipathy in the 1960s when a heavyweight boxer changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He may have been revered upon further reflection, but in the day, some of his opponents would taunt him with “Clay! Clay!”

One of the terrible things that happened to enslaved people is that they lost their names. Likewise, indigenous people from the Americas to Australia experienced intruders who thought they needed a change in order to make it “easier.” Easier for whom?

Lots of people’s names were changed because of bad transcription, or willful changes at Ellis Island. Conversely, my Nordic ex took back her family name.


I’m rather bad with names. I am of the opinion that everyone should have name tags. This is especially true when almost everyone is wearing a mask. The last time I watched Grey’s Anatomy, the doctors wore picture IDs so you could tell who the heck was treating you under all that PPE. I could never be a teacher, learning new names every year.

Some folks are great with names. Former US Senator and basketball star Bill Bradley would go on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He’d meet the audience before the show and share all of their names. Likewise, my former Congressman Matt McHugh was astonishingly good at remembering not only people’s names but the names of their spouses and children.

The Name Game -Shirley Ellis
The Name of the Game  – ABBA
You Know My Name – The Beatles (Anthology 3)

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