Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two First Names

Back in the so-called “Swing Era” there was a terrific musician named Harry James. He was a trumpeter and a bandleader. In fact he was the first bandleader to feature a young singer named Frank Sinatra, but as they say, that’s not important right now. The thing about Harry James is, (and this may place me way up there in the ‘pull out the petty’ rankings) that in one of the movie musicals in which he was featured, some gorgeous singer tunefully introduced him as “the man with two first names: Harry James!”

I know, we have a world financial crisis, terrorists trying to attack us, and an earthquake of colossal destruction in Haiti, and I’m blogging about some musician from sixty years ago. I really know how to focus on what matters, don’t I?

And yet…

Why do I recall that line from a movie I must have watched on tv with my dad a zillion years ago? Um, partly because my dad, in some photos, bore a striking resemblance to Harry James. Partly because, I don’t know—I can’t remember what shoes I’m wearing if I can’t look at my feet. I just do.

The thing is, it comes to mind when I meet someone whose surname is a common first name. In fact one of my husband’s college friends fits this category, and he recently shared a story about how it created a near-crisis in his senior year in college. Let’s call him Simon Kelly. Because that’s his name. No, it’s really not. You don’t get into AEPi with a name like Kelly, but that’s not important right now either…

It was getting close to graduation time, and his guidance counselor called him in and told him he had only about half the number of credit hours he needed for his degree. Kelly went nuts, assured the guy he had been carrying a full course load for 3 ½ years, and had carefully been documenting his requirements.

After some fast and furious digging, they realized that nearly half his grades had been turned in under the name Kelly Simon, and the rest under Simon Kelly. Clearly, we went to college before everything was computerized, bar coded and automated. Lord, we actually stood in lines to sign up for the course and section we needed to get into! How primitive!

Anyhoo, just in the past week I’ve made note of some of the surnames I’ve read in the paper (yes, many from the obits—I’m weird like that) that are commonly thought of as first names. Here are a few:

Molly (not kidding)


Fred  (really!)


Roberta (I know!)
















So our pal, the so-called Simon Kelly recalls that he was so traumatized by the near-miss graduation that he deliberately named his two sons so that they would never experience a similar ‘mis-confusion’. They are Machine-Gun Kelly and Kelly Kelly. Mission accomplished.


  1. LOL! Leah, just a note to say Thanks for brightening up my days. Each time I feel a little low, I come here and immediately feel brighter and better. You have a gift. Please publish a book. Really!

  2. Hey Leah,

    Harris IS a surname, and has a long and noble English history! Your point is correct, though, and the converse is also true; Harrison, Mason, Jackson, Carson, Riley, Austin, Blake, Dalton, Ashton, Barclay, and dozens more. ALL surnames with hundreds of years more history than your star-spangled isle.


  3. Ha! This is so funny because I was just talking to a friend last night. We're having surprise b-day party for another friend and we were trying to come up with funny things about this friend. One of the things we came up with is that she always dated guys with two first names. She even married one.

  4. I needed this today! Just a good, light-hearted post. Excellent.

  5. Thanks for stopping by on my SITS day! I LOVED all the comment love and now I'm here to spread it around!

    Love the name of your blog!

  6. lol...that poor guy had it rough!!! my poor kids will never have that happen thanks to their neurotic mother who chooses weird names! lol