Keeping up with the Joneses

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jones Soda
Whether or not it is true, parents are accused of screwing up the lives of all their children.  From poor potty training to incest, overcompensating materialistically, creating a sense of entitlement & other neuroses, kids don’t stand a chance.  In fact I blamed my own mother for crippling my fledgling creativity.  Her crime: discouraging me from pouring chocolate milk over my Rice Krispies.  At the very least we would be millionaires by now.  And my father repeated his stories so often that I hate authority & I have never held a job.  But from the beginning their most unforgivable transgression was the name—JONES.

Carrie Underwood, Last Name music video .

When I was growing up I had to bear the burden of the surname.  It was a stone around my neck.  So common.  So ordinary.  So brief.  The embarrassment seemed somehow penance for sins I was destined to commit.  I dreamt of an aristocratic scripture that described my soon-to-be, erudite contributions to society.  Fortunately I did not have to become an expert in hand-to-hand combat to avoid getting a beat down everyday.

In third grade my teacher asked me to write a piece for the school newsletter.  I labored for days over the article of less than 300 words—sculpting, word-by-word, a masterpiece.  On the fateful day as they passed the aromatic mimeographed pages out amongst my classmates, I anticipated fame & fortune.  Imagine my surprise when the byline read Louise Jones.  To add insult to injury, everyone automatically assumed it was some girl in another grade.  My last name did not even have the strength to protect me.  Identity is so fragile.

Popular saying “Keeping up with the Joneses” was first coined by
cartoonist, Arthur R. “Pop” Momand for his comic strip by that
name, debuting in 1916.
Grace Jones


Historically surnames are a fairly recent convention, mostly derived from a patronymic clan system.  The bulk of European surnames were formed in the 13 or 14th century.  Father-to-son heredity was an adopted practice.  Surnames have also reflected social class, regional location, indigenous culture or tradition.  They caught on faster in urban areas than in rural ones.  And have often been mired in family history, changed or altered because of convention, translation, feud, clerical error or assimilation.

We can trace my mother’s family tree (Madden) all the way back to George Washington, James Madison & beyond.  My great, great, great…grandfather was Washington’s coachman.  And because his “owner” was the Father of Our Country there are extensive records.  Quite unbelievably the lineage was traceable through the long line of women.

Sigmund Freud would tell us there is something deeply mystical in a surname.  Therein lay psychological tolls.  A kid unlucky enough to be born to a bad moniker, one that his playmates can morph into a degrading nickname or insulting epithet, is scarred for life, never outgrowing the self image forged throughout grade school or high school.  The harder the fight against the ignominy, the worse it would get.

Jones  n. 1. describes a state in which one experiences strong desire
or attraction 2. Narc. a drug addiction, especially to heroin 3. Penis

As a sophomore my Jesuit homeroom teacher inquired about my middle name.  And like the dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, he exerted control over me for the rest of the year.  He called on me constantly just to hear the dulcet sound.  I have never revealed it to friend or foe since.  Not even spinning straw into gold would get it out of me.

Name Change

Alteration by personal choice is a common practice in America.  First names are more expendable than last names.  The US Navy once got applications from half dozen brothers who all bore names like Measles Jones & Pneumonia Jones & whatever malady had afflicted the family at the time of their births.  Often to change one’s name is an attempt to change one’s identity.  Injured psyches that feel a name does not fit will shed it for something more glamorous or poetic.  In a hemisphere where the individual is sacrosanct & everything else is instantaneous gratification, it can be insulting to immediate family members but is accepted by a tolerant society.

Legend has it that my Grandfather, on my father’s side, changed his name because he did not get along with his father.  So no ethnic excuse or any family history remains.  Jones is a name without pretense.  Jones is a name without serifs.  It bears no malice.  No sex.


Along the way I fell but I did not shatter.  Eventually as an adult I made peace with my last name.  It happened suddenly.  One day a light went off in my brain.  All the negative connotations became a positive.  “Bad” is good.  I realized how absolutely sublime it was to have such an easy appellation.  Everybody knew it.  There is only one way to spell it.  It does not rhyme with anything too embarrassing.  And even though its pronunciation has been butchered on my travels to Greece & South America, it does not have any obvious references that can be made fun of.  For my business that is a tremendous asset.  Therefore it became part of my “branding”.

Everybody knew by the engine’s moan that the man at the throttle
was Casey Jones.
            --sung by Johnny Cash, Casey Jones

Jones, son of John, was born on the border between England & Wales & is the fifth most popular name in the USA.  There are 413,873 phone book entries with the name Jones.  So I claim that every Jones in the world is related.  Any Jones, famous, infamous, fictitious is therefore kin.  Each one unknowingly does my advertising.  When I am introduced to another Jones I make the corny joke that we are long, lost cousins.  My assistants grow weary of the bad humor.  It usually makes for a cute icebreaker but some people are so baffled & nonplussed that it makes the situation uncomfortable.  But their reaction in itself allows me better insight into their personality.

In the beginning I designed my logo, ©jones, to emphasize the name JONES by merely inserting the copyright symbol in front.  When the internet was young I tried to register but it was taken.  So was  So I opted for the more European spelling “foto”.

I now claim Jones as mine.  I embrace it.


Hopper Stone March 6, 2010 at 10:11 AM  

You missed "Along Came Jones".

John Still March 9, 2010 at 5:21 AM  

[you must've heard em all]
also "Cleopatra Jones"

thanks Lou for a lovely,entertaining meditation on name and identity....

Bernestine Singley March 11, 2010 at 10:11 AM  

Too funny, Lou(ise) Jones! Hey, you gave us the hammer. Did you really think everybody would be mature enough not to use it?!

Of course, with a five-syllable appellation, I come at this issue as your polar opposite. In my 60 years, I've never met another person with either my first or last name. And if it had ever occurred to me that I could change my name, collapsing the whole thing down to two syllables would've been divine.

My name made me smart and defensive: smart because I had to know how to spell it by the time I started kindergarten and once I mastered that, there was no point in stopping there; and defensive because whenever my new teacher screwed up her face during roll call on the first day of school, I knew she was about to butcher my name.

In Boston, where I first began practicing law, in the early days of blacks & women (and, therefore, black women) in the courtroom, my name frequently became "Atty. Bernstein." Imagine the surprise all around when I (6'1" in heels, not Jewish and not even male) approached the bench.

Eventually, I got so tired of spelling both my first and last name that I'd just give folks my first name and stop. "Last name?" they'd inevitably ask. "You don't need to know," I'd snap, "you'll never meet anybody else named Bernestine."

Then, one day in Dallas at Black Images Book Bazaar, my friend the owner heard me say that to a stranger. "Come here," she said as she tapped a few keys on her computer. Then she turned the monitor to me and quickly scrolled past 6-7 "Bernestines," not a single one of whom was me.

Since then, Internet research reveals Bernestine is not only a Deep South moniker, but, apparently, most popular in Alabama which is not where any of my family or I have roots. Go figure.

As for Singley, that's another whole long story, really a book that must be saved for another time and another venue.

But to wrap this up, you might be interested to know that I have one sibling, my sister who is 4 years older, nearly a foot shorter, and possessed of a much sweeter disposition. Her name?

Wait for it...Ernestine.

Carol Lieb March 13, 2010 at 1:02 PM  

Everyone gets teased about their name and every name gets misspelled.

Somehow our name does shape us, it is part of the first impression and has a profound influence on the way we view the world.

My last name means beloved in German.

So I will try to spread the word.


Lisa Dennis March 18, 2010 at 9:08 AM  

Lou - really enjoyed your erudite, cool, edgy meditation on your name. I have always thought from the day I met you that your brand was so uniquely reflective of you - and as a marketer - fotojones immediately resonated for me. More particularly, I love the stories you tell in both words and photos - your movement back and forth is always so fluid and thought provoking. Love this blog. LOVE it. and i rarely say that. thank you!

Lisa Dennis

Anonymous,  March 25, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

Lucky you...never needing to spell your name. Saves years off your life. I speak from experience.

Loved your musings!


Greg Nikas April 3, 2010 at 10:52 AM  

While reading your post, I felt your pain. I came into this world in 1950 as Gregory George NIkas, a second generation Greek, in Ipswich, MA. The town was made up of Yankees and Greek, Polish, Irish and French immigrants. See where this is going? In high school I had two nicknames, The Greasy Greek and Nick Greegus. You don't have to think to hard about the first, but the second has a story. Mr. Leighton, my shop teacher, was great with wood but had a particularly hard time pronouncing student names correctly. Mine came out Nick Greegus, which eventually was shortened to Greegus. My first reaction was anger, because I was certain Greg Nikas would disappear into oblivion. But as it turned out and to my relief, Greegus completely replaced The Greasy Greek. Good thing too, Greegus ended up on the sleeve of my football jacket. To this day, I have friends that refer to me as Greegus. And at 60, I guess that isn't such a bad thing, because it always reminds me of the good times we had together on and off of the football field.

Greegus (but don't spread it around)

marjorie nichols February 12, 2011 at 6:25 PM  

This is a fascinating read.
Interesting information about your history as well as truisms about my own name. It came from Greece where, i am guessing Jones took on two syllables.
My own Greek name has 14 letters. My Dad decided to make things easier and changed it to Nichols. For years in school I went from one name to the other until, again for ease, I settled w/the less interesting version. Like you I was thinking of how it would work for photograph recognition. Enough years have passed that names like Stephanopoulos can now roll off people's tongues.
I was amused to read that feuds sometimes determined names. My maternal grandfather and his brother had a feud (the island they were from was known for feuding - the Ottoman empire did not try to conquer these stubborn people). My grandfather and his brother divided their name into two. Each took half and never reconciled. However, my Mother found her Uncle, packed up us two kids and secretly took us to his candy store so we'd know our family. We were speechless. We were also happy to have boxes of chocolates to eat on the way home.

Thanks Lou, Marjorie Nichols

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.