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Mail route leads to changing names

 When I married Beverly Butler (now Eartha ─ same wife) there were thousands of Butler grain bins and steel buildings all over North Dakota. I assumed Beverly’s family was the grain bin and steel building family and I was marrying into a very sweet future. Visions of sugar plums danced in my head. I should have asked. I never brought up the subject until much later because I didn’t want to seem like a grain-bin digger. Finally, after about two years of wedded wonderment, I finally got up the nerve to casually inquire about the Butler-bin fortune.  “Oh, we’re not that family ─ we have nothing to do with grain bins or steel buildings ─ in fact, GreatGrandpa’s real last name was a good solid Norwegian name ─ Bergstrom. There were too many Bergstroms on the mail route and he changed his name to avoid any further confusion.   

“Why do you ask?” “  Oh, no special reason ─ just curious.”  By then I’d fallen in love with my wife head over heels and wouldn’t think of leaving. I stuck with her and forgot about life in the fast lane. That was three children and nine grandchildren ago ─ all in the slow lane.   In this part of the world, confusion on the mail route seems to be the number one reason people change names.   

The effect of the flood of immigrants from Norway continues to this very day, especially in the Red River Valley. I just counted 839 Johnsons in the Fargo-Moorhead phone directory.   (Yes, I do exhaustive research for this column.)  And that doesn’t include spouses and children or Johnsons with cell phones only and no landline. Fifteen of those Johnsons are Robert Johnson.   What would you do if your name were Robert Johnson and you’ve kept getting bills for some other Robert Johnson, or worse yet, calls from some other Robert Johnson’s pregnant girlfriend?   Those are worse that mail route confusion.  You’d probably consider changing your name, but what name would you pick?  What about just reversing the names to become John Roberts? Be careful, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is John Roberts, Jr.  You probably wouldn’t want to get his mail either, considering some of the decisions those guys have made.  Name changes are common in show business. For example, how could Marion Mitchell Morrison fit the image of a big, tough heroic type? Only by changing his name to John Wayne.   

Similarly, Dino Paul Crocelli became Dean Martin and Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe.  Professional wrestlers aren’t athletes, they’re show business stars. That’s why James George Janos changed his name to Jesse Ventura before he became a pro wrestler and later the blowhard Governor of Minnesota from 1999-2003.  (More exhaustive research.)  Others have come to this country with too many syllables in their names and changed just to shorten, simplify or Americanize their names. Others changed to mask their ethnicity. Some names carry heavy burdens. Especially, since the terrorist killings in Paris.   I remember riding in a cab in New York City in 2002.  The driver and his family had immigrated to New York from Pakistan in 2000 because America was the land of opportunity.   

Then along came 9-11 and he and his family were subjected to great hate for being Muslims.   His children were threatened daily in school.  He said they couldn’t take it any longer and were going to have to go back to Pakistan where they would have no opportunities.   I think that if I were coming to this country from the Middle East today and my name was Muhammad anything, I’d either take John Wayne’s old timid name and change to Marion Mitchell Morrison or become a Norwegian named Robert Johnson.