David Bruce: The Funniest People in Families, Volume 2 — Music, Names

Music

• Figure skater Elvis Stojko is named after Elvis Presley. Although it seemed natural for him to skate to Elvis’ music, he resisted doing so for years, waiting until exactly the right moment. In January 1994, after he won his first Canadian national championship, he skated to Elvis’ music at the exhibition. Only three people knew about the program beforehand—it was a surprise even to his Elvis Presley-loving parents.

• While at home, conductor Arturo Toscanini was poring over scores with some friends. While talking passionately about music, he began to perspire. Walter, his son, took out a handkerchief, mopped Mr. Toscanini’s brow, and asked, “Why are you perspiring?” Mr. Toscanini replied, “Because I am warm! When I talk about music, I am not cold!”

Names

• Charles E. Perkins was the president of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Long ago, he, his young daughter, whose name was Elsie, and the railroad’s chief engineer went on a trip through Nebraska, while the two men planned where to start new towns. One day, the chief engineer told Elsie that he and her father had run out of names for the new towns, so they would let her name the next one. She couldn’t think of a name, so the chief engineer decided to name it after her: Elsie. Years later, Elsie, by then a grown-up woman, went on a trip to Scotland, where she met a woman who had lived for a while in Nebraska. When Elsie asked her where, the woman replied, “Oh, in a little town you never heard of, in western Nebraska, named Elsie. I have often wondered how it got that name.”

• When opera singer Enrico Caruso’s daughter was born on December 18, 1919, she was named Gloria, because Mr. Caruso said she was his crowning glory. She also had other names. Mary—for the Virgin Mary. Ameriga—because of being born in America. Vittoria—because the United States won World War I. And Grazianna—to give thanks to his mother, Anna. When Mr. Caruso sang in public for the first time after her birth, the audience cried, “Viva papa!”

• After Vincent Price married his second wife, the happy couple created a new family tradition: All of their pets were given names beginning with P, because the name “Price” begins with a P. Therefore, the new litter of poodles from their pet, Prudence, were named Pablo, Paderewski, Pansy, Pasquale, Patience, Penelope, Percival, Picayune, and Pinto. Mr. Price’s dog from before he married a second time was renamed PJoe.

• Many Jews decided to change their names to less Jewish-sounding names to fit in better after becoming successful in the United States. William Seligman once went to his brother Joseph and said that since they had both become very successful as investment bankers, they ought to change their names. Joseph replied, “I agree that you should change your name, William. I suggest you change it to Schlemiel.” (Schlemiel is Yiddish for a stupid, unlucky, or awkward person.)

• As a kid, because of poverty, George Burns stole. In fact, according to Mr. Burns, he got the name of Burns because he and a friend used to follow a Burns Brothers coal truck until it was near his home, then steal enough coal to fill their pockets. (Mr. Burns’ name at birth was Nathan Birnbaum.)

• Mildred Ella Didrikson received her nickname—Babe—because while playing pickup games as a youngster she hit home runs just like Babe Ruth. In 1932, she won two Olympic gold medals as a track star, and later she won several national and international golf tournaments.

• When comedian Geraldine Ann “Geri” Jewell was born prematurely, there was a mix-up about her name at the hospital. She was placed in an isolette on which was a chart labeled “JEWELL, PRECIOUS.”

Nieces

• Star ballerinas are celebrities. Alicia Markova arranged for her six-year-old niece, Susie, to attend a matinee of Giselle, and to come backstage after Ms. Markova’s performance. Of course, after the performance, many well-wishers stopped by to congratulate Ms. Markova, and this puzzled Susie because she could see the visitors knew who Ms. Markova was, but that often Ms. Markova did not know the visitors. Susie asked, “If I’m a famous dancer and dance Giselle, will I have a lot of people who know me but don’t know me?”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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