What’s in a Name

nametagI’ve never cared for my family name: Gladstein. When my grandfather came through Ellis Island, they didn’t change his surname — just the pronunciation. It was originally pronounced “GLOT-shtine” but they changed it to “GLAD-steen”. Oddly enough, I find that the original pronunciation just rolls off the tongue, but apparently, even after almost 45 years of practice, I don’t pronounce the current version of my name very clearly. If someone asks me my name and I tell them “Gladstein,” they almost invariably repeat back “Blansky?”

On top of that, when I briefly attempted to learn German, the professor in my class told me what my name means. I won’t mention it here, but it is not brave leader, or god’s gift, or even decent enough fellow.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about names and naming of late. There are people who make their living naming things: companies, products, etc. But naming people is another matter. My mother was given the name Edith Claire at birth, supposedly in honor of some dead relative named Edith. However, nobody liked the name Edith (and I don’t think they liked Edith herself, either), so before the ink on the birth certificate was dry, people started calling my mother Claire Edith. So there, Edith, whoever you were.

I’ve been putting together a little project in my copious free time, listing names that could be real, and have a certain something else that sets them apart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. If you have any to add to the list, let me know.

  • Anne Teeter
  • Bela Kose
  • Claire Voyant
  • Ella Meneaux
  • Ellie Tate
  • Farrah Field
  • Helen Bach
  • Luke Askew
  • Paris Ochs
  • Paula Titian
  • Perry Farrell
  • Phyllis Stein
  • Herman Ütichs
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Delaware? Please.

I warned you that I was going to write about this. If you’re not sufficiently open-minded and can’t accept the possibility of a truly global conspiracy, go ahead and return to your pornography.

Still here? Good for you. I knew I could count on you.

I’ll start off with some background information — an incident that took place right down the street at the in October of 1958.

SmootsThe Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity used their pledge, , to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge, which spans the Charles River between MIT’s campus in Cambridge and Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Most people actually refer to the bridge as the Mass. Ave. Bridge (since it carries Massachusetts Avenue across the river), and a few call it by its proper name (I once overheard a group of MIT students state that it’s called the Harvard Bridge because it’s so poorly engineered that MIT refused to let it be named after them), but many of us lovingly call it the Smoot Bridge.

Since then, the bridge has been completely rebuilt, but the markings are still there, they’re repainted whenever necessary, and police report on accidents on the bridge as occurring at such and such Smoot marker. The Smoot is as much a part of local lore as that Paul guy… you know — the silversmith. For your information, a smoot is about 170cm, or 5 feet, 7 inches. You can check on Google if you like.

Now, here’s the part of the story that’s not so well-known. In fact, a worldwide cabal conspires to keep the truth from us.

Word of the Smoot Bridge spread far and wide, quickly reaching Baltimore, where the Lambda Chi Alpha brothers at determined that they had to find a way to beat the MIT chapter’s — MIT’s term for a clever, benign, and “ethical” prank or practical joke.

They told their freshman pledges that they were to rewrite American history. The freshmen had to come up with a plan, get it approved by the frat brothers, and carry it out.

One pledge, James Delaware, came up with the idea of renaming Baltimore. The upperclassmen declined this one, deciding that it would never work and MIT’s chapter would never let them live it down. Then Delaware came up with a brilliant compromise: they would give a name to some area that no one paid any attention to and then get people to recognize it as official.

Welcome to DelawareThey drove out to an area near the Maryland – New Jersey border and spent one very long night putting up road signs that mapped out the borders of their new “state,” Delaware. While this was going on, other pledges broke into the university’s library to steal and alter atlases and history books, so that by morning, the original group of twelve colonies that became the United States had, at least in some resources, a thirteenth member.

Obviously, this wasn’t enough to change history. That took years. As each of the fraternity brothers graduated and went out into the world, they would seek out ways to spread their version of history and geography. The process took so long, that it was noticed by only a small number of observers.

Because so much time and labor went into the process, and because your average Hopkins grad has at least a bit more clout than most people, it eventually just found its way into history so that today, people living and working in that little corner of Maryland actually believe they’re in “Delaware.” The idea of making this fake 50th state (since it was created in the 1950s) use “the First State” on signs and license plates just demonstrates the extraordinary confidence the frat boys had in their abilities. And clearly, they were right to be confident.

Today, almost no one knows the truth about “Delaware.” This nonexistent place is even represented in Congress! The secret is jealously protected by the original pranksters, who are all in positions of great power in politics, religion and map making. One of them, James Delaware’s roommate from the frat house, is considering a run for the presidency in 2008. If Joe Biden is elected, he will certainly be America’s first president from a fictional place.

It’s all true.

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