Yes, those are real names of Las Cruces personages who must be at the receiving end of constant jokes. I know I couldn’t resist when Dr. Butcher attended me in the Mountain View Hospital Emergency Room. However, service men under the command of General Coffin at the White Sands Missile Range might be more reluctant to make jokes about their superior’s appellation – at least in front of him.
To change a last name requires legal action, yet I have found quite a few that are either marvelously appropriate or inappropriate that might have benefited from a name alteration.
First names are different, for they can easily be turned into nicknames to avoid jeers. During the 1950s, some Jewish boys in Detroit wished to emulate their Italian hero classmates. Admiringly, Harold became Rock and Merwyn became Dino. Additionally, many Iranian students studying in the U.S. felt the heat during the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran. To deflect public hostility, Mahmoud became Moe; Amir became Tony; Jafar became Jim and Mehran became David.
Ellis Island provides the setting for many family legends about how American names were bestowed. When non-English-speaking members of a Russian family arrived, the exasperated immigration officer asked, “Does anybody here speak English?” Someone answered, “Esther can,” and the family name stuck as “Esterkan.”
The classic Ellis Island legend is about the immigrant, who, when asked for his name, responded in Yiddish, “Ich habn fargessen” (I’ve forgotten) resulting in his new moniker, “Ike Ferguson.”
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who was expected to be a male and named after a deceased great-grandfather, Nathan Solomon. Unprepared for the birth of a daughter, her father asked a Sister Superior at a Roman Catholic Hospital, if she could recommend a good girl’s name beginning with N. Thus I became Norine, a traditional Irish name, amusingly juxtaposed with my very Jewish last name of Shapiro. Additionally, my UCLA Spanish professor loved to greet me as I entered his classroom, “Buenos Días, Señorita Shapiro,” guaranteeing a laugh from my classmates and me.