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Saturday, July 7, 2012

It Was the Tautonym* that Enchanted Me

Strange things capture a young boy’s attention, and for me it was the curiosity of an author having the same given name as his surname. Holling Clancy Holling has the strange beauty of a harsh Irish name bookended by two action words, or gerunds.

It wasn’t always so. HCH was born Holling Allison Clancy in the eponymous Holling Corners, Mich. His forebears had lived and farmed there for generations. He legally changed his name in 1925, the same year that he married Lucille Webster. Holling was his mother’s maiden name, according to Joan Hoffman, who curates the Leslie Area Historical Museum.

“While attending the Art Institute of Chicago,” she writes, “he used Holling as his signature and became known as Mr. Holling, except by those who knew him well. Another contributing factor [to the name change] was that there were ample Clancy cousins to carry on the name — his father was one of 12 children — unlike the surname Holling that had come to an end.”  Only once prior to 1925 did he use that signature as a pen name.

If a writer wants to keep his or her name on readers’ lips, there are worse ways than to name yourself redundantly. There is the British writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), whose father was responsible for the surname change. And Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), who changed his name in 1919 because “Hueffer” may have sounded too German.

William Cole whimsically outlined the situation in “Mutual Problem:”

   Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,
   ‘There's something, old boy, that I've always abhorred:
   When people address me and call me, ‘Jerome’,
   Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?’’
   Said Ford, ‘I agree; it's the same thing with me.’

* A tautonym is a scientific name in which the same word is used for genus and species. For example, the red fox is Vulpes vulpes and the black rat is Rattus rattus. Thus, Holling Clancy Holling is both genus and species for author and artist and naturalist. Makes sense, no?


  1. Walt, I would like to forward you some documents about HCH and Disney. Would you like to email me at

  2. Thanks so much! I'll be getting back to you with an e-mail shortly.

  3. If Ford was concerned that his name sounded "German"--why did he wait until 1919 to change it?

    Before the War, he'd spent time in Germany, hoping to, somehow, establish residency & get a divorce. His lover, Violet West, 11 years his senior, desperately wanted to marry; English law would not allow him to divorce. Soon, West insisted they had married in Germany & began calling herself Mrs Ford Madox Hueffer. The Real Mrs Hueffer took her to court--causing a scandal that the papers loved!

    By 1919, Ford was embarking on his next serious love affair & trying to recover from the War. Some see his name change as a way to distance himself from both Mrs Hueffers.....

    1. Wonderful story...and one I did not know. Thanks for bringing up.