Monday, June 13, 2011

Forgotten Names

by Joan

As writers we hope our work will remain on others’ shelves and minds long after we’re gone. We wish to connect with readers, touch hard-to-reach hearts or bring humor to those who crave it. We’d love our name to be familiar to someone other than our relatives. Especially after we die. Surely non-writers feel the same.

Last week on a trip home to Maryland, I visited friends and family, celebrated three more high school graduations, and took my niece to Solomon’s Island and St. Mary’s College in Southern Maryland where she’ll attend next fall. I also made my way to a cemetery I’ve long wanted to visit.

On a sunny, happy day, my son and I roamed through Mt. Olivet Cemetery in historic Frederick, Maryland. It was easily close to two miles long and probably half a mile wide. I expected he’d humor me and patiently wait while I wandered for a bit, maybe long enough to see Francis Scott Key’s monument and cross a field or two of aging tombstones.

But to my surprise and delight, he seemed just as fascinated as I was, enamored with stones and epitaphs and history. As we stepped over the past, we discussed life and death and legacy. Who will recognize our names?

Many names we spotted that day were unfamiliar and we wondered if they weren’t made up. There were plenty of duplicates, even some whose match lay clear on the opposite side of the cemetery. By the time we’d climbed through each section and were headed back to the car, we ventured there were thousands of graves there.

I wrote down some of the more unusual names we saw, as well as some I’d like to use for characters in a future book. One name was so steeped in history, I contemplated stepping out of my comfort zone and setting a book during the civil war. What do you think of Amos Thigpen?

We couldn’t help but wonder if we could figure out their professions:
Fearhake - Accountant
Gittinger - Bootlegger
Deterding - Jailer
Devilbliss - Mortician
Stonebraker - Architect
Kefayver - Locksmith
Haberkorn - Bootsmith
Kottmyer - Physician
Hamrick - Butcher
Peomroy – Dog groomer
Tobery - Teacher
Hahn Crum – German spy
Boleler - Musician
Dudrow - Cowboy
Petrotth - Scientist
Lebhertz – Telegraph operator
Wickless - Thief

And we came upon a tree, whose trunk formed the image of a woman about to give birth. I'd name her Bessie Brightwell. What are some of the most unusual names you've come across?


  1. Joan,

    You know I love that tree! I even see a spot for me to sit - it's calling to me! So jealous - I love old cemeteries. Maybe you should come with me when I go to Granny Madonna's old home town. There are little forgotten ones tucked into the woods. And some very old ones out in the open, too, since I know you don't like the woods.

  2. Did you note the details on the headstones near the tree? To see if one of the graves' occupants was a young woman, possibly one who died giving birth? Queueing spooky music ... :)

    My first impression was a butler bearing a tray of drinks!

  3. Make that cueing spooking music. I'll blame the fact that I've been reading a delightful manuscript set in England lately. Gosh, and in a cemetery, too! ;-)

  4. I LOVE this post. I think my favorite is Wickless - the thief. So many story ideas creep into my head when I read these unusual names. I have come across some great names in the phone book. One of my favorites is Carrington Huntington, III. A friend of my hubby's has the last name "Tadpole". And I met a man whose first name is Speed. It's on his birth certificate.

    Thanks for reminding me just how great character names can be! :)

  5. Kim--I'd love to go with you to Granny Madonna's old home town. Name the date. :)

    Julie--I didn't even think to connect the tree to a tombstone, but I'd guess the tombstone was there long before the tree. But wait--how would someone who planted the tree know it would grow that way? Are you messing with me?! I'll forgive you based on your second comment. :)

    Heather--so glad you liked the post. Yes, Wickless was funny! It was fun to come up with the professions! Tadpole! Now that's unusual!

  6. I might hold you to that, Joan! Columbia County is supposed to be gorgeous. It's where Last of the Mohicans was actually supposed to take place. One of Madonna's (several times) great-grandpas actually helped make treaties with the Mohicans.

  7. Kim--that's all you had to say! You got me.


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