Saturday, August 16, 2008

What's in a Name? Part Three

Because I am not devoid of pride, and because I always want to know whether I’m being talked about and what people are saying if I am, I periodically look myself up online or, as they say, “google” myself. (Perhaps “Google” should be capitalized, since it is a trademark.) The only other Reginald Shepherd who comes up is an aged and very Caucasian Canadian painter, a self-described “poetic realist” who seems well-known in his native Newfoundland and in neighboring Nova Scotia, but nowhere else as far as I can tell, even in Canada. I think of myself as a kind of poetic realist as well, in life and in my poetry, so perhaps our kinship is more than name deep.

Years ago, when I lived in Chicago, another, decidedly less savory Reginald Shepherd popped up when I searched myself. An apparent career criminal (all that came up were his various arrests), he was something of an evil doppelganger. I once was almost denied an apartment because there was a record of my arrest for “criminal shoplifting” (I always wondered what legal shoplifting was) in 1991, two years before I moved to Chicago. And once I received a letter from a social service agency that some woman had named me as the father of her child. I had to call and explain that the last time I had been in the vicinity of a woman’s vagina was the morning I was born. One of the other Reginald Shepherd’s old addresses even appeared on my credit report, an error (among others) I had to call and write in order to rectify. My criminal double has either settled down into legal respectability or died (either is equally likely), as he hasn’t shown up in my web searches for several years. I would like to think that he has seen the error of his ways and now become a law-abiding citizen, but I have no great desire to inquire further.

When I look up the most common misspelling of my name, Reginald Shepard, which people sometimes insist upon even when they’re publishing or paying me, no matter how many times I sign and print the correct spelling of my name, besides finding various references to my misspelled self (I try to correct them when I can), I also find references to a death row inmate in Florida by that name. I don’t know what his crime was, but I imagine that it was probably murder. I find it a little disturbing to once again have a criminal doppelganger living (though who knows for how long) in the same state. At least there are two crucial letters separating my name from his, his fate from mine. But still…


JeFF Stumpo said...

Extending sympathy as another someone with a last name that ought to be easy to spell, yet someone always messes it up. Stumpo becomes Stump, Stumps, Stumpy (I know of no language where "ee" and "oh" sound anything alike).

When refereeing one winter for an indoor soccer facility in Bloomington, IL, I was asked by the manager how to spell my last name. Stumpo, I said, like a tree stump with an "o" at the end. My first check? Made out to Jeff Atreestumpo. He wasn't being a wiseguy, either.

Wouldn't you expect people to default to the, well, real word in spelling your last name? After all, there is such a thing as a shepherd.

Mark Granier said...

Interesting post Reginald. I am used to people misspelling or mispronouncing my own surname, Granier, though it doesn't bother me. So far as I know, I and my mother (and now my son) are the only Graniers in Ireland. In school, where the convention was for teachers and pupils to address one another by their surnames, they called me Granny. If I'm in a hurry when booking a film or taxi I often just say 'Granger' so that I won't be asked to spell it.

Jeff, that is one hilarious anecdote, 'Atreestumpo'. I laughed out loud (no offence intended).

JeFF Stumpo said...

@Mark - no offense taken. The anecdote was intended to cause laughter.

The better story, though one not understood by many people my age, is that of my great-grandfather (or so the story goes). This particular great-grandfather was of Irish descent, and his wife was pregnant. On the day she goes into labor, he picks up a phone and asks the operator for the cab company so that he can get her to the hospital in a timely manner. The cab company answers.

My wife's in labor, he says. Send a cab!

Where do you want us to send it, they ask.

Such and such a place, says he.

What's your name, they ask.

Charlie McCarthy, he says. Click. They hang up on him.

He picks up and asks the operator for the cab company again. Again they ask for his name. Again they hang up on him.

The third time, when they ask for his name, he tells them Joe Smith. They send the cab.

For those of you too young to remember (which technically includes me), Charlie McCarthy was the name of ventriloquist/comedian Edgar Bergen's most popular dummy. The folks on the other line figured he was making a crank call :-)

seana graham said...

I google myself sometimes as well, and find that though my name is uncommon, I also have a doppleganger. The other version of Seana Graham is younger and apparently makes the news mainly for her athletics, at least so far. I can google only myself if I eliminate all reference to scores, sports and athletics. In the end, though, this makes me feel like a real couch potato.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Very interesting. Four years ago I googled my name and found that I was the target of a lewd joke at a pornographic website. I was still an Episcopal priest then so it was shocking, but not surprising. After that I googled myself about once a month to see what my enemies were saying about me. Now I don't care.

JKA said...

Hey, at least your name has a standard spelling. Guess how many people spell my first name correctly their first try.

Anonymous said...

People commonly insert an "n" into my last name (writing "Hutchinson" instead of "Hutchison"). But my most peculiar experience of the mystery of names involved another "Hutchison": See

seana graham said...

Regarding your experience, Joseph, timeshifting doppleganger is almost as creepy as criminal doppleganger. But on a practical note, did you ever contact Harper about anthologizing your poem without your permission?

Anonymous said...

Dear Seanag—

I did not, in fact, contact Harper-Collins. I recently got hold of the editor's address, though, and plan to drop her a line. I'll contact H-C at the same time! I guess the whole thing gave off such a vibe of bad ju-ju that I never pursued it....

seana graham said...

Just in the interest of accuracy, it seems worth sorting this out, bad ju-ju or not.

Sorry, I suppose I am wandering a bit far afield from the original theme here.

Archambeau said...

There must be some crazy zeitgeist thing going on -- I just wrote a post about auto-googling (I hadn't yet read this) that also involves an African-American poet, a Canadian artist, and a guy (me) who lived in your old neighborhood in Chicago.

JeFF Stumpo said...

So an African-American Poet, a Canadian artist, and a guy from Chicago all walk into a bar...

I'm done now. Really. Sorry.

Jane Holland said...

Although I don't have the OED on new words available to check this, I would imagine that Google has a capital letter when used as a proper noun, i.e. in reference to the actual search engine, but a lower case 'g' when used as a verb, i.e. to google oneself.

I have several Jane Holland dopplegangers. One in Australia, whom I emailed about 12 years ago because she had the hotmail account I'd wanted! Another was the unfortunate Jane Holland, daughter of Lord Attenborough, who was drowned in the Boxing Day tsunami. There are several others around with websites: executives, business consultants, interior designers etc. But only one poet, to date.

And for this relief much thanks!

Gabby said...

we all have the same common of experiencing that misspelled, pronunciation, I sometimes try to google my name and my name are very common in Germany but then some spelled it correctly and some are not but does have the same pronunciation funny though that make sense because as I can think of even there it exist it is simply unique =)
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