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Sunday, April 3, 2016

What a Funny Name! It’s a Tautonym*



It may be worth repeating that Holling’s name was the first thing that captured me as a child reader.  Who on earth has the same first name as his surname?  Further,  Holling Clancy Holling has the strange beauty of a harsh Irish name bookended by two action words, or gerunds. 

Mr. Holling, however, was born Holling Allison Clancy in the eponymous Holling Corners, Mich.  His forebears had lived and farmed there for generations.  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.” 

He legally changed his name in 1925, the year that he married Lucille Webster.  Holling’s friends asked if Lucille would now be known as Mrs. Clancy or Mrs. Holling, The couple thought about it, and since Holling had been writing as Holling Clancy Holling they decided to make the change legal.   

(The Irish judge who approved the identity change challenged, “And why, begorra would anyone with a perfectly good Irish name of Clancy want to change it to the English name of Holling?” 

If a writer wants to keep his or her name on readers’ lips, there are worse ways than to name yourself redundantly.  There’s 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 his limerick, “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, artist and naturalist.  Makes sense, no?
 
 
 


 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this! I have always wondered at his name and was even more curious when I read the Wiki article and discovered that it wasn't his birth name, but found no answer to the change there.
    Great story! : )

    ReplyDelete