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First Initial, Middle Name Hall of Fame

March 5, 2015

Now and then I hear from someone who's been victimized by the first-name middle-initial bullies who have taken over business and all its forms. Or from someone who, as Karen Czmarko described herself in an email not long ago, is "a trivia nut, history buff, and just generally curious person." She said she wanted to shake things up in her circle in St. Louis -- "the land of trivia nights (so I am told) because there is only so much repetition of "First Lines of Novels" and "St. Louis Landmarks (or worse) that I can take." So she was thinking about a first-initial middle-name trivia round. She went to the Internet, and from there (or here) to my inbox. And she had names to add:

R. Lee Ermey (Golden Globe nominee from "Full Metal Jacket" among other films)

H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Desert Storm general) She points out that Schwarzkopf's first initial is just that, an initial, and does not stand for a name.

(This is more common than you'd think. Southern naming traditions include initials alone for boys. J.R. Cash was born in Arkansas in 1932 but when he joined the Air Force they wanted a name so he chose John, and that's how Johnny Cash was born. Even I have to admit that J. R-name Cash wouldn't have cut it.)

Later, Karen weighed in again with:

C. Everett Koop (13th surgeon general of the U.S., serving under Reagan and George H. W. Bush)

A few days later, I received the following email:

Dear Mr Taylor,

What? No C Montgomery Burns?

Yours, Richard Coulam

Fans of "The Simpsons" know that C. Montgomery Burns, aka Mr. Burns, is the evil, money-grubbing owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant and Homer Simpson's boss.

And some time after that, Mads Groftehauge wrote from Denmark to point out that my list "is of course missing the actor C. Thomas Howell. He was a minor 'brat pack' figure in the eighties, but I remember him for playing himself in the (probably terrible) 1990 comedy 'Far Out Man.' Famous quote (in a spoiled, whiny voice, stretching out the last name): "Hey, don't you know who I am? I'm C. Thomas Howell! I was the black dude in 'Soul Man.'"

Then, earlier this year, my friend Marty Fridson threw out the once-prominent name G. Mennen Williams. Nicknamed “Soapy,” Williams was a two-term governor of Michigan, assistant secretary of state for African affairs under JFK, ambassador to the Philippines under LBJ, and a member and chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Thank you, Karen, Richard, Mads and Marty. I now return you to my original posting from April 22, 2008:

I've been pondering lately the impossibilities faced by those of us who use first initials in conjunction with their middle names, in my case J. Nicholas Taylor. The "J" is for John, which was my father's name, hence I became "Nick" at home and J. Nicholas evolved naturally. But more and more, I find the forms at banks and other institutions don't let you do that. There are spaces for first names and middle initials, but no room for full middle names so you can't cheat by entering your first initial in the name field and then a full middle name. This is a form of discrimination that didn't exist before computers started spitting out forms that regiment us for the sake of data-handling. What about those of us who want to assert our individuality without getting tattooed? I was discussing this with my my friend Greg Schwed (P. Gregory Schwed, for the reason that his father's name was Peter) the other day, and learned that he had compiled an All-Star list of the first initialed. Greg's as smart and funny a person as you'd hope to find, not to mention a fine tennis player, and so I pass on his list to you, annotated with his commentary:

Here it is: the final (I hope), definitive "first-initial" Hall of Fame/Infamy. All 26 letters of the alphabet. 80 names (82, if you include me and Nick). All actual human beings, except for a chimp (J. Fred Muggs), a cartoon character (J. Wellington Wimpy), and a fictional character created by a cartoon character (I. Ron Butterfly). And T-Bone Walker and T. Woodrow Wilson are kind of cheaty. But all these are included only because I liked 'em; other more legit candidates fill out their respective letter slots.

More commentary after the list.

A. Bartlett Giamatti (Former Yale President; last decent MLB Commissioner)

A. Louise Brough (40s-50s tennis champ. Thanks to the late Dick Craven for this and all the other tennis-related entries. Dick had a flair for this silly pursuit. I think he enjoyed the challenge of an utterly useless game centered around the inherent pomposity of the first-initialed name. It appealed to his Deerfield-honed wit. Weird coincidence on Ms. Brough: her first name was Althea. Brough lost the 1957 U.S. Women's championship in the finals to -- Althea Gibson.)

A. Neville Chamberlain (but rarely referred to as such)(appeasing pre-WWII British PM)

A. Philip Randolph (distinguished African-American civil rights and trade union leader)

B. Donald Grant (former head of CBS Entertainment. Not to be confused with M. Donald Grant, below)

B. Learned Hand (but rarely referred to as such)(legendary Second Circuit judge)

B. Wayne Hughes (net worth of $3.2 billion, according to 2005 Forbes 400)

B. Francis Saul II (another Forbes 400 billionaire)

C. Aubrey Smith (British cricketeer and actor)

C. Douglas Dillon (Secretary of Treasury under JFK)

C. Estes Kefauver (U.S. Representative and Senator from Tennessee and Adlai Stevenson's 1956 VP running mate; chaired eponymous 1950s' crime commission)

C. Northcote Parkinson (Parkinson's Law - "work expands or contracts to fill time allotted")

C. Virginia Fields (former Manhattan Borough President; unsuccessful candidate for New York City Mayor in 2005)

C. Vann Woodward (American historian)

C. Vernon Mason (NY lawyer; disbarred for his role in Tawana Brawley fiasco)

D. Wayne Lukas (famed horse trainer whose horses have won, as of 2006, 12 Triple Crown races)

E. Allan Farnsworth (Columbia Law contracts prof and author of leading contracts text)

E. Annie Proulx (Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist)

E. Howard Hunt (Watergate burglar)

E. Power Biggs (legendary classical organist)

E. Stanley O'Neal (Former Chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch)

E. Victor Seixas (50's tennis champ, winner of Wimbledon and US National)

F. Lee Bailey (legendary trial lawyer)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (if you don't know, I can’t believe you read this far)

F. Murray Abraham (won Best Actor Oscar in '84; rarely heard from since)

G. Gordon Liddy (Watergate burglar; second career as right-wing darling)

G. Harrold Carswell (failed Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court; later arrested by undercover cop in public bathroom)

G. William Miller (Chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter for less than a year; shortest tenure ever)

H. Rap Brown (60s Black Power activist; shot and jailed after stick-up attempt on W. 86th Street in NYC)

H. Rider Haggard ("King Solomon's Mines," "She")

H. Ross Perot (entrepreneur and diminutive third-party Presidential candidate)

I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby (Dick Cheney chief of staff; convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice; sentence commuted by President Bush)

I. Leo Glasser (US District Judge, E.D.N.Y.)

I. Ron Butterfly ( Bart Simpson's concocted songwriter for the supposed hymn, "In the Garden of Eden" (In-a-Gadda-da-Vida), blasted out in Reverend Lovejoy's congregation. (Season 7) (Lovejoy (with dawning suspicion): "Hey, this sounds like rock and/or roll!"))

J. Edgar Hoover (cross-dressing FBI director)

J. Fred Muggs (Dave Garroway's chimpanzee on 50s Today Show)

J. Paul Getty (one of the first billionaires; refused to pay ransom for his grandson; changed mind when the boy's ear arrived in the mail)

J. Robert Oppenheimer (Director of the Manhattan Project)

J. William Fulbright (independent-minded Arkansas Senator)

J. Walter Thompson (ad agency giant)

J. Wellington Wimpy ("I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today . . .")

J. Donald Budge (again, courtesy of Dick Craven)

K. Lemoyne Billings (JFK's best friend from childhood)

K. Ram Shriram (early Google investor; Forbes 400 billionaire)

L. Brent Bozell (head of right-wing TV watchdog organization; multiple winner of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann’s award for “The Worst Person in the World.”)

L. Frank Baum (author, "Wizard of Oz")

L. Patrick Gray (Hoover's successor as FBI head; tainted by Watergate)

L. Ron Hubbard (Founder of Scientology. What more can one say?)

L. Sprague de Camp (respected sci-fi writer)

M. Donald Grant (longtime Chairman of the Mets; traded Tom Seaver)

M. Jodi Rell (Governor of Connecticut)

M. Lincoln Schuster (co-founder of Simon & Schuster)

M. Night Shyamalan (overrated director of "bump-in-the-night" films)

M. Scott Carpenter (one of original seven Mercury astronauts; second American in orbit, 1962)

N. Gregory Mankiw (Harvard economist, New York Times contributor)

N. Albert Moussa (tech expert, interviewed by Dan Rather on 48 Hours and quoted in the NY Times on how the TWA Flight 800 crash could have been averted)

N. Richard Nash (playwright and screenwriter)

O. Bruton Smith (billionaire)

P. Anthony Ridder (the Knight-Ridder CEO who presided over the sale to McClatchy of the venerable newspaper chain that bears his name.)

P. Kevin Castel (U.S. District Judge, S.D.N.Y.)

P. [N.B. on "P"s: Being entirely objective about the matter, I conclude that I, P. Gregory Schwed, don't make the cut, unless I can achieve sudden, explosive celebrity. I doubt a respectable but unspectacular career as a corporate bankruptcy lawyer will do the trick. Some kind of headline-grabbing crime might work, but who has the energy? I must say, however, that some of the entries for the really difficult letter-initials are no more famous than yours truly. Paging Messrs. N. Albert Moussa, V. Frank Pottow, X. Drew Liu and Z. Anthony Kruszewski . . . They get in under a kind of affirmative action program for under-represented letters. (I'm assuming that any of the billionaires on the list are plenty well-known, at least by relatives, would-be-relatives, chauffeurs, manicurists, pedicurists, Maserati and Gulfstream salespeople, trophy wives and ex-wives, etc.) Bottom line on the "P"s: Federal Judge Castel and ex-newspaper mogul Ridder get the nod over me, although I do get extra credit for compiling this list.]

Q. David Bowers (Leading writer about numismatics and other collectables)

R. Peter Strauss (former owner of WMCA)

R. Buckminster Fuller (but everyone knew him as Bucky)

S. Epatha Merkerson (actress for years in "Law and Order"; an African-American female celebrity to brighten up the S's, otherwise dominated by obscure billionaires)

S. Curtis Johnson (Forbes 400 billionaire)

S. Robson Walton ($15.6 billion)

S. Truett Cathy (Forbes 400 billionaire)

T. Berry Bazelton (bestselling author and baby doctor)

T-Bone Walker (obvious bogus, but I like the reflected glory of legendary blues guitarist)

T. Boone Pickens (large-livin' oil and gas exec and takeover artist)

T. Coraghessan Boyle (fiction writer). But his book covers, in an apparent nod to the pronunciation challenges presented by his middle name, call him T. C. Boyle, so does he really count?

T. Rowe Price (founder of the mutual fund family that bears his name)

T. Woodrow Wilson (a stretch, but a President was a must)

U. Myint Thein (well-regarded Chief Justice of Burma)

V. Frank Pottow (a Managing Director of Greenhill, private equity shop)

W. Averell Harriman (distinguished diplomat)

W. Mark Felt (revealed in 2005 as Watergate's "Deep Throat" )

W. Somerset Maugham ("Of Human Bondage," "The Razor's Edge." But you knew that, right?)

X. Drew Liu (China expert. Executive Director of the China Strategic Institute (which doesn't seem to have a current website, but Liu has written a bunch of books, published by real publishers))

Y. William Yu (Madison Avenue custom shirtmaker for 45 years. Henry Kravis a client. I saw Yu's sign from a bus.)

Z. Anthony Kruszewski (Prof of political science and Coordinator of Russian and Post-Communist Studies at UTEP)

So there it is. Sure, some of the harder letters are a bit dubious. And I cheated on a bunch by trolling the Internet. The original rules I concocted years ago, as this game’s self-appointed Commissioner (and pretty much sole participant), was that you had to have encountered the name in the course of your daily life: newspaper-reading, TV watching, and general magpie-like acquisition of useless shards of cultural trivia. That was supposed to be the tepid warranty of sufficient notoriety. Probably the yardstick nowadays would be whether they have legit Wikipedia entries. So I stretched the rules a bit. Sue me. The list is finally complete and I can rest.

More commentary:

The list has a surprising preponderance of disreputable sorts: a gaggle of Watergate criminals, cross-dressing FBI director, Bush administration hatchet-man and perjurer, and an assortment of other poseurs, con-men and purveyors of New Age claptrap.

The filthy rich are also well-represented, from the old rich (Getty) to the digerati rich.

My personal favorites: Giamatti, Randolph, Hand, Parkinson, Biggs, Oppenheimer, Proulx, Bazelton, Fuller, Fitzgerald, Wilson, Maugham.

Sleaziest first initial: "G," in a walkover. Liddy, Carswell and Miller. No more calls, folks.

Strange syzygy of Watergate players: E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, L. Patrick Gray, W. Mark Felt.

Here's my rough listing of the "best" and "worst" first initials (points given for both fame/notoriety and number of individuals):

"A List" letters (in rough descending order): J, F, C, H, L, G, W, A, T, E, D, M, R (although the difference between the very top letters and the very bottom ones in this category is considerable).

"B List" letters (some names are a stretch, but those well-versed in popular/legal/business culture might recognize 'em): S, I, K, B, P, U, N (again, in descending order of recognizability).

"C List" letters (complete stretches, because they really don't have a sufficient public profile to make the cut, if the game were being played under the strictest rules. Still, these folk are not just out of the phonebook. They typically have a strong reputation in some obscure field or are ridiculously rich): O, Q, V, X, Y, Z (in alphabetical order).

That's all, folks!

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