Thursday, March 4, 2010
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.
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.
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--sung by Johnny Cash, Casey Jones
was 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.
- Grace Jones
- Edward Jones Investments
- John Paul Jones
- Norah Jones
- Everyday Jones
- Jesus Jones
- Indiana Jones
- Jones Soda
- James Earl Jones
- Dow Jones
- Spike Jones
- Spike Jonze
- Tom Jones
- Bob Jones University
- Jones Beach
- Mother Jones
- Too Tall Jones
- Jones New York
- Star Jones
- Jughead Jones
- Smarty Jones
- Inigo Jones
- January Jones
- Basketball Jones
- George Jones
- Great Jones Street
- Jones Big Ass
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 jonesphoto.com but it was taken. So was photojones.com. So I opted for the more European spelling “foto”.
I now claim Jones as mine. I embrace it.