A name by any other name


Texas' most famous Hogg - Governor during the 1890s (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)


If you are from Texas, you already know about Governor Hogg and his daughter. Before Hogg, governors had to be brought in from out of state; he was actually born in Texas and served during the 1890s. I heard about him when I was a very young child and immediately loved him because he named his daughter Ima. At the time, I didn’t consider how Ima felt about it; I just liked the sound of it. When I heard he had another daughter named Ura, I wished that my parents had loved me enough to name me Ura Hogg. Later I found out that Ura didn’t exist. I have lived with a broken heart ever since.


I can’t trace my love for wordplay to the story of Governor Hogg, but it definitely taught me that people’s names are fun to play with. (Note to reader: I am doing my best to stay away from pig puns. With a name like Hogg, that’s hard to do. But for your sake, I will gird up my tender loins and get out of this paragraph as fast as I can.)


Here’s what got me to thinking about Hogg. Yesterday, we saw a car with a license plate from Iowa. From deep within my brain, a wish came bubbling up; a wish that my last name was Lott and that I was from Iowa. Then my online name could be Iowa Lott.


The lovely Ima Hogg kept her name all her life (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

In the privacy of my own mind, I do this kind of nameplay all of the time. I once worked with a woman whose last name was Mennen. When she told me she had a grown daughter, I was quite excited. Before I could offer to be a matchmaker, she told me the daughter was already married. I dreamed of fixing her up with a man named Black. She would use a hyphenated last name: her maiden name and her husband’s last name. I imagined her wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and a black suit to work. When people asked her name, she would answer simply, “Mennen-Black.” Had I been more careful about who I married, I could have had a name like that.


There’s more, of course, but today is the first day of classes for this semester and I need to get there early. I always look forward to my classes. The people sitting in those chairs are not just students to me, they’re names.

43 thoughts on “A name by any other name

  1. I have always had a fascination with last names and how they evolved. How does someone ever come into a really embarrassing last name? When I lived in Switzerland for awhile, and could translate some of the names, it was fascinating. It’s easy to figure out how a family came into the name of Schmid (Smith) or Taylor (tailor), but what about Knoblauch (garlic) or Schoenenberger (beautiful mountain)? What are the stories behind those names?

    • I know what you mean. I’ve always wondered why people with surnames like Roach don’t alter the spelling to Roac or Roache or Roche and change the pronunciation. It forces people to say things like, “My best friend in college was a Roach,” or “Look, here come the Roaches now.”

  2. Wow, your school is in session on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?
    On names: 1), Do you suppose she pronounced it “Eema”?
    2) Here are some real people with sadistic parents (people whose real existence either friends or I can attest to): Teddi Baer, Mike Griffone, Melody Lane. I guess she was lucky not to be named “Memory.” I actually have a longer string of such names but am at this moment drawing a blank. I feel like James Thurber trying to remember “Perth Amboy.”
    3) My favorite fantasy name doesn’t involve a surname. My best friend suggested naming a niece whose father worked for a company that created synthetic fibers for fabrics etc. “Polly Esther.” (Suggestion was not taken.)

    • Perth Amboy??? That’s one of my favorite James Thurber essays– “More Alarms At Night,” I think it is called. (Though my memory is shot, especially for the names of things.)

      What an excellent reference on a post that is Thurber-esque in it’s mastery and humor. How cool!

    • Yes, we had our first day of school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Most schools around here were in session.

      I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer to how to pronounce Ima Hogg’s first name, but I always heard that is was with a long “i” sound. Online article all say she went by Miss Hogg.

      My husband went to school with a Peter Rabbit, who came from a very large family.

      In a better world than this, Polly Esther would be the producer of Madonna’s “Material Girl.”

      • Another big name in Texas (in terms of money and prolific offspring) is “Onderdonk.”

        I can think of six things off the top of my head that are wrong with that surname. But, I will give it props for being unforgettable. 🙂

  3. Good thing you gave yourself a workout before the kids did!

    I remember hearing about the Hoggs. I thought there was a “Shesa” too, though. Folks are nasty.

    Me, I collect weird names of doctors. One of my favs, since we’re talking livestock here, is Dr. Perdue, who was in charge of bird flu at the World Health Organization.

    • I never heard about “Shesa,” but I’m sure people have thought of a dozen or more possibilities.

      I like those collections of names and occupations: aptronyms like Mr. Hammer who owns a hardware store.

  4. Your post left me laughing out loud – again! Speaking of doctors, I used to work in a clinic with Dr. Chitty and Dr Bangs. And in a hospital with Dr. Harry Groth – fortunately he had a good sense of humor! Sharon

  5. One of my college classmates married before graduation and hyphenated her name. Pretty sure I’d have opted differently than Mrs. Marion Berry-Pie. But I suppose I’d prefer that to being christened Banana Cream. Maybe.

  6. riatarded

    What are you studying? Or are you teaching?

    I have always wanted a more interesting name, but for now I am stuck with Humaira. Perhaps I could marry someone with an interesting name 😛 hmmmmm

  7. Amongst its many meanings, doesn’t Ima mean mother? Many, many years ago in the county of Yorkshire a registrar published a book about names folk give their bairns – I always thought he made most of them up eg: Mr and Mrs Cart called their son Orson – that’s what he said. 9Must get the name of that book again)

    • I don’t know the meaning of Ima; it may well be mother. Ima Hogg was named for the heroine of poem that her uncle wrote. It’s fun to make up crazy names for your kids, but in real life it would be too hard on them, I think. Orson Cart is a cute name, though.

  8. I love this so very much. Being from Texas, I do know the sad story of the naming of Ima Hogg, but your rendering of it is *so much funnier*.

    It takes a special kind of person to do name play well, which means you’re probably great at wacky place names also– a hard thing to do well. I wish more novelists had this one in hand, as you do.

    Your last line killed me. I’m giggling like a fool right now, Yearstricken. So happy!

    • I like your word choice there of rendering since we are talking about Hoggs. It reminds me of something Francis Bacon might say.

      You are always so encouraging, Courtney, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  9. Love randomly interesting names. I once dated a man named Art Fine and yes he was. He was also a Major in the AirForce, so he was Major Fine. I kid you not. Oh my yonger years. I also went to school with Sandy Beach and Moe Best. What are parents thinking? Enjoy always, T

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