History

A Rose by Any Other Name

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Describes the origins and possible effects of both family and given names on people. Names that are legally forbidden.
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  A Rose by Any Other Name ByElton Camp It’s a special disadvantage in life that only ancestors can provide. Able to lead toirritation, low self-esteem, endless embarrassment during childhood, ridicule andconfusion during adolescence, and lost employment opportunities during adulthood, itscreation usually is free and unregulated. But once launched, the ogre can be counteredonly with emotional stress, criticism, ill will, unmerited guilt, much paperwork, andconsiderable expense. What can cause such problems? A macabre, revolting,inappropriate, or otherwise ill-chosen name has such powers. Nobody immediately at hand can be chastised for family names. The appellationsoften srcinated centuries in the past. Like moaning ancestral ghosts, they follow and plague descendents even to the tenth generation and beyond. Few have the fortitude tosay, “It’s enough,” and exorcise the family curse. In fact, some are oblivious to howothers react to the name. After all, they grew up with it and think nothing aboutsomething so familiar to them.My wife’s family provides an example in the name “Lynch.” While far worseexamples can be cited, that one immediately brings to mind vigilantes seizing andhanging some hapless victim whether innocent or guilty. In the South, it uncomfortablycalls to mind racially motivated murders.History and a gruesome tale combine to suggest a macabre reason for the name.That the Lynch family srcinated in Ireland is almost certain and the surname remainsone of the hundred most common in that country until today.Some historians suggest “O’Lynch,”a Gaelic version of the name, but mostidentify the Norman French name “de Lench” as more likely to be where it came from.At any rate, those Norman ancestors are better known than the Gaelic because of the prominent role they played in the affairs of Galway. Given that choice, most Lynches prefer the latter.Records indicate that Dominick Lynch, in 1484, obtained a charter for the cityfrom King Richard III. It’s always gratifying to tie one’s possible ancestors to a king insome way or other, especially when it was so far back that it’s not likely anybody candisprove the claim. Few like to boast that their remote father drove the trash wagon,although there were far more ragmen than there were kings. In the hundred and seventyyears between 1484 and 1654, when Catholics were forbidden to hold the office, eighty-four mayors of Galway were of the family of Lynch. To have mayors as forefathers isn’tas gratifying as if they’d been kings, but it’ll do.  Of all the Lynch mayors, the one most likely to be remembered in Galway isJames Lynch. He was one of the early ones of that group. The year after Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage, the man executed Walter, his own son.“You are to sail to Spain to pick up a cargo of wine and bring it back to Galway,”James instructed. “Here’s the means to pay for it,” he added as he entrusted a chest of gold coins to his son. “I know I can depend upon you to fulfill your duty.” The father was mistaken.Each day of the voyage, the wayward son opened the chest and ran his fingersthrough the glistening coins. “All this for some wine,” he thought. “I could make far  better use of it.” Greed overcame sound judgment and he hid the cache under his bunk.Upon arrival, Walter played on his father’s name and credit to be allowed to loadthe cargo. “You know my father is the mayor of Galway,” he said to the Spaniard, butthe city officials are stubborn and will allow him to pay only when they get the wine.Allow me load the shipment and payment will be on board the next ship to Spain. Youhave my promise and his.Reluctantly, Don Carlos agreed to the arrangement, but added a condition. “Mynephew will go with you to receive payment from your honored father. You need not betroubled with a return voyage.”On the way home, Walter became desperate, knowing his father would discover what he’d done. “There’s only one thing I can do,” he decided. He must bring the crewinto a scheme to murder the young man.“Work with me and I’ll pay you well,” the ship captain promised. The sight of the gold incited greed in the men so that they became participants in the evil plot.When far from any land, they struck. “Seize him,” young Lynch ordered as themen burst into the nephew’s cabin. The conspirators bound him and tossed him to awatery death in the sea.On arrival to Galway the mayor, unaware of his son’s treachery, received himhappily and generously set him up in business.For some months, Walter was apprehensive. He jumped at every knock on thedoor, fearing the Spaniard would be standing there to demand an accounting. But, withlack of communication and the many hazards of shipping, Don Carlos assumed the shipand crew had been lost. As time passed, young Lynch believed that the danger of discovery had passed. He prospered in his business and enjoyed spending his ill-gottenwealth. He was soon to be married. An unexpected development changed everything.  Patrick, one of the sailors who had been on the scheme, became desperately ill.On his deathbed, he sent for Mayor Lynch. The dying man revealed everything. “Thisgreat burden has been removed from my soul,” he said with his final breath.The mayor, enraged by the ruthless murder and deceit, confronted his son whoeventually admitted his guilt. Since his father was magistrate as well as mayor, it was hisduty to seek justice.“No man can be above the law, not even my own son,” he sternly charged as hedirected his conviction and then sentenced him to death.Walter was popular with the townspeople. He’d been generous with his ill-gottenwealth and has helped many of them as they fell into need. They gathered in a moboutside the mayor’s house.“Show mercy. Pardon your son and release him,” they demanded.The mayor was a stubborn, proud man who wouldn’t go back on his decision.Walter must become a sacrifice to public justice. On the morning of the execution, themayor, the bailiffs, and his condemned son were unable to reach the place of execution because of the mob that had gathered to prevent it.“Bring him back inside my house,” the mayor ordered the bailiffs. He led them toa window overlooking the street on an upper floor. “Put the rope around his neck and push him out,” he demanded. The men, in fear of the crowd, remained motionless andsilent.When he saw that none would obey him, the mayor exclaimed, “Then I will do itmyself.” He fastened the rope around his son’s neck, secured the other end, and forcedhim from the window in full view of the assembled mob of protestors. The youth diedinstantly.Historians believe that the srcinal Lynch house was located somewhere on whatis now called Market Street. The Lynch memorial structure, with a façade composed of amixture of Middle Ages architectural details, was built in the mid 19th century as amonument to the infamous hanging. Its large window is said to have come from thesrcinal Lynch house.It may well be that the word “lynching” in the English language, srcinated withthe story of the Lynch hanging of Galway in the late 15th century. Historians claim thatthe account is from the ancient book of St. Nicholas kept in the Protestant CollegiateChurch of St. Nicholas of Myra. The building, located only a short distance from presentday Lynch Castle, contains a Lynch aisle and is said to contain the grave of James Lynchwho, according to Galway tourist information, condemned his own son to death for killing a foreigner. However, some modern Galway historians discount the gruesome taleas nothing but a myth.  Other historians hold that the term “lynching” srcinated from Colonel CharlesLynch, son of a man from Galway, who hanged British soldiers without trial during theAmerican Revolutionary War.Perhaps neither story is true, but it hardly matters. The name generates mildsurprise and evokes unpleasant memories of the horrid crime of lynching. In all thoseyears, the only descendents who have escaped it are women who marry and take thenames of their husbands.A name found with some frequency in Alabama is “Smelley.” Imagine theridicule and teasing that little Joe Smelley must endure from classmates. In this case, thename srcin isn’t at all what one might surmise. The family name, with many variationsin spelling, dates all the way back to ancient Scotland where it was a nickname for a person with a smile or happy personality. In fact, one variant spelling is “Smiley.” Sorather than suggesting that one’s ancestor had an unpleasant odor, it suggests happiness.In many Alabama newspaper, marriage announcements are headlined with thehyphenated family names of the bride and groom. A particularly unfortunatecombination once appeared in a paper near Sylacauga, Alabama where such an article bore the heading “Smelley-Butts.” By the way, “Butts,” in England, were archery targetsso a person who was an archer or lived near a practice field might come to bear thathonorable name.Quite a number of people in north Alabama have the family name Pigg, includingthe chief administrator of an area hospital. In this case, the name comes from an Englishword that actually means “pig.” The first recorded occurrence of the name dates to 1066.It might be that those with the name raised swine or even worse, may have resembled a pig in some physical trait. A number of noted people in the United States have borne thename. An unfortunate local combination is a man named “Waylon Pigg.” The name canhardly be described as advantageous except that most will remember it.A name that evokes an obscenity can be particularly troublesome, whatever itsactual srcin. An example found locally is “Fulks.” It shares only three letters with thecrude graffiti that adorns bathroom walls, but the pronunciation is close enough to produce awkward attempt to stifle a smile when introductions are made. German insrcin, that one comes from a prestigious family in Prussia. The Fulks family was noble,had great influence, owned large estates with castles, and was noted for involvement in public affairs. None of that helps young Susan Fulks when mischievous middle school boys mockingly chant her name over and over.Given names are another matter entirely, since they are totally in control of  parents. An ill-advised choice can prove to be a substantial disadvantage to the child thatis its victim.
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