By Linda Rosenkrantz
Last week we looked at some neglected girls’ namesake names, now it’s the boys’ turn as we seek some equally distinctive names from American history and culture, names that could provide unique-ish options with interesting back-stories. What’s especially evident here is how many of the unusual boys’ names are mothers’ maiden names that started out in the middle but were switched by their sons into first place.
Adlai Stevenson—There were three noted generational bearers of this name– their combined accomplishments: one vice president, two senators, one governor, a two-time presidential nominee, and an ambassador to the UN.
Alpheus Hyatt was the founder of the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole; his namesake Alpheus Hyatt Verrill invented the autochrome natural color photography process, and there have been two Alpheuses in the U.S. Senate.
Atlee Burpee (full name Washington Atlee but always called by his middle) was creator the world’s largest mail-order seed house. Birch Bayh was a long-term Democratic senator from Indiana, a one-time presidential candidate and the only non-Founding Father to author two amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Booth Tarkington, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author who, with Faulkner and Updike, is one of only three novelists to win the Pulitzer for fiction more than once. Born Newton Booth Tarkington, he was named for his uncle Newton Booth, then governor of California.
Branch Rickey was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who broke the color barrier in baseball when he signed Jackie Robinson. Another notable who went by his middle name, he was christened Wesley Branch.
Burr Tillstrom was the creator/ puppeteer of one of the earliest and most popular kids’ TV shows, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, from 1947 to 1957. Once again, a middle name user: he was born Franklin Burr, Burr being his mother’s maiden name.
Button Gwinnett was the second signer of the Declaration of Independence. Button was his mother’s unusual maiden name.
Calder Willingham was a twentieth century novelist and screenwriter of such classic films as The Graduate. He inherited his name from his dad. (This could also be a tribute to sculptor Alexander Calder.)
Canada Lee, an eminent twentieth century African -American actor and Civil Rights activist, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata, but when his surname was mispronounced as Canada Lee, he grabbed onto it.
Cotton Mather, named for his paternal grandfather John Cotton, was an influential Puritan preacher who was instrumental in setting the austere tone of the colonies.
Crispus Attucks, a slave and later a merchant seaman, is considered the first casualty in the American Revolutionary War during the Boston Massacre.
Deems Taylor was a twentieth century composer and music critic known as “the dean of American music.” A crony of everyone from Gershwin to Fitzgerald to Ayn Rand, he appeared as the Master of Ceremonies in Fantasia.
Dickinson Richards was a physician and physiologist who received the Nobel Prize in 1956 for the development of cardiac catheterization.
Eastman Johnson was a nineteenth century American painter and also a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Eero Saarinen was the Finnish-born American architect and industrial designer responsible for the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Son’s name: Eames, in honor of fellow designer, Charles Eames.
Eleazar Wheelock was a Congregationalist minister who was involved in education for Native Americans, and was later the founder of Dartmouth College.
Erastus Fairbanks was a founder of the Republican Party, and the 21st and 26th Governor of Vermont.
Fiorello LaGuardia—one of the great American mayors, serving New York for three terms which encompassed World War II. Known as “the little flower,” he once said that the “most hopeful accomplishment” of his mayoralty was the creation of The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (which just happens to be my alma mater).
Fontaine Talbot Fox, Jr, created the syndicated comic strip “Toonerville Folks,” which ran from 1913 to 1955 and was one of the most popular comics of the World War I era.
Greenleaf Whittier Picard was a pioneer of radio communications, inventing, among other things, the crystal detector; he was named after his great-uncle, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
Hermes Pan—(born Hermes Panagiotopoulos) was one of the major forces in dance choreography of twentieth century musicals. Closely associated with Fred Astaire, they worked together on 17 films. Sister’s name: Vasso.
Isham Jones was an early twentieth century bandleader and composer of such standards as “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Down by the Old Mill Stream.”
Jabez Gorham was the master silversmith who founded the Gorham Silver Company in1831.
Jubal Early—nn “Old Jubilee–was a Civil War Confederate general, the commander of several key battles.
Jupiter Hammon was a black poet who in 1761 became the first African-American writer to be published in the United States.
Lemon Jefferson—Known as Blind Lemon Jefferson, he was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s.
Lafcadio Hearne was born Patrick Lafcadio on the Greek island of Lefkada, the source of his name, and was most noted for his writings about Japan and New Orleans.
Meriwether Lewis was an explorer, the leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Meriwether was his mother’s maiden name.
Noble Sissle was a jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer and playwright, co-writer of the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”
Nunnally Johnson was a Hollywood screenwriter and director who won an Oscar for his screenplay of The Grapes of Wrath. Nunnally was his father’s middle name.
Philo Farnsworth—Through his many electronic inventions, he is given credit as the inventor of electronic television.
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the US Supreme court who made major contributions to criminal justice reform and civil rights. Potter was his mother’s maiden name.
Rembrandt Peale was a prolific American painter known for his likenesses of Presidents George and Jefferson; he had brothers named Rubens, Titian and Raphaelle, and a son named Michael Angelo.
Romare Beardon was a well known twentieth century artist working in oil and collage, and was also an author and songwriter.
Salmon Portland Chase served as a U.S. Senator, the Governor of Ohio, and as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. Father’s name: Ithamar.
Solon Hannibal Borglum was a sculptor best known for depictions of cowboys and Native Americans. His brother Gutzon was one of the two men responsible for the Mount Rushmore carvings.
Thorne Smith— James Thorne Smith, Jr. was a writer of humorous fantasy fiction, best known for his two comic Topper novels, which became hit movies.
Ub—born Ubbe– Iwerks—One of Walt Disney’s earliest collaborators, he co-invented Mickey Mouse, was an Oscar-winning animator, and also inventor and special effects innovator.
Upton Sinclair—who inherited his father’s name—was most famous as the author of his classic muckraking novel, The Jungle, which exposed the scandalous practices of the meatpacking industry.
Zebulon Montgomery Pike was an American general and explorer for whom Pike’s Peak is named.
Find any of these usable?
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