Names

My father maintained the all people who spelled their name “Huffman” were related. He said that our way of spelling our name was a recent adaptation, that in Europe our family name was spelled Hauffmann. The transition to the American Continent often involved a change in the spelling of the name. Some chose Hoffman. Some chose Haufman. Some chose to keep the double n at the end of either of those names. Single and double f’s were also options. Only a few chose Huffman, and we are all related. That doesn’t mean we all know each other or that we know how we are related.

Of course, in one sense, my father was correct. All humans are related. Modern DNA evidence, unavailable during my father’s lifetime shows that there are ancient connections between people whom we think are unrelated. So, we are all related.

I remember one day, in 1969, our family was visiting the Washington, D.C. area. We had driven around and around trying to find a place to park. Our father spotted a driveway with a marked mailbox that said “Walter Huffman,” his name. He promptly drove up the driveway, and to our embarrassment as teenage children, walked right up and knocked on the door. He said, “Hello! My name is Walter Huffman and I’m from Montana and I saw your sign and I knew that someone with a name like “Walter Huffman” would surely let Walter Huffman park his car in your driveway for an hour or so. They did. We did. It has become a family legend.

When I moved to Chicago, I looked up my name to find out if there were others in the city who shared it. There were other Huffmans, but none listed in the phone book with the name “Ted Huffman.” There was a Ted Hoffman, but no Ted Huffman. I was rather pleased. A city of three million and my name was unique.

Of course, I’m not the only one with the name. All you have to do is Google it and you’ll find out that the American Director Ted Huffman, who made his Royal Opera debut in 2016 is way more famous than I. Ted Huffman. A google image search of my name brings up thousands of images. Maybe two or three of them are pictures of me.

Our family stories have two versions of how I got my first name. One is that our father took a look at me shortly after I was born and said, “A kid like that needs a short name. He’ll never learn to spell anything longer than three letters.” Another is that my forebears who went by the name Ted were all named Edward and someone said, “If you’re going to call him Ted, why not name him Ted.” I prefer the second story to the first. and I have a fair spelling vocabulary these days.

I was thinking about names last night because I was reading about Chris Thiele, who was a Pinkerton Agent around the turn of the twentieth century who was involved in some of the agency’s famous union busting work. His name caught my attention because it is very near to the name of Chris Thile, which I think is pronounced the same. Chris Thile is the host of “Live From Here,” a musical variety show that is popular on public radio.

That show changed its name back in December when Minnesota Public Radio terminated its contracts with former Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor last month after allegations of “inappropriate behavior” surfaced. If you google “Prairie Home Companion” these days, you’ll likely get bounced to garrisonkeillor.com. The home page of that site has a rambling, Garrison Keillor essay about changing the name and date of Columbus day to Eisenhower Day on Eisenhower’s birthday, which is October 14. “A day on which smart people can admit to their dumb mistakes,” is what Keillor proposes.

We surely need a day for smart people to admit dumb mistakes.

What I think Keillor must be aware of by now is that life goes on. The show has a new host and a new name and it isn’t the way it used to be and it never will be again. The thing in which Keillor invested such a large slice of his life is now over.

Back in the 1980’s when Keillor announced he was retiring from A Prairie Home Companion for the first time, they had a big farewell show. Roy Blount, Jr. recited a poem at that show with the line, “’Tis better to have been good and over than rotten and gone on too long.” We didn’t know at the time how prophetic those words would turn out to be. I think it had been good and over at that time. The show went of the air for several months and at first when it returned it had a different name. But that was a long time ago. Since then Keillor has retired at least a second time, been fired, become embroiled in scandal, and much more. What at one time had been good and over became rotten and gone on too long.

Still, there is much in a name. Chris Thile the musician is a mandolin player and a band member and a guy with his name in the headlines. Chris Thiele the Pinkerton agent was sly and tricky and not above lying to try to manipulate someone or influence sworn testimony given in court. He preferred to stay in the shadows and often used a pseudonym. Just because one made me think of the other doesn’t mean that they share much in common at all.

So when people say, “What should I call you? Pastor? Reverend? Doctor? Priest? Mister? I say, “I answer to a lot of names, but Ted is just fine.” Titles don’t mean that much to me and I know that my capacity to touch the lives of others comes from what I do and how I treat them, not from may name.

Don’t expect my name to be up on buildings or in the lights of broadway. Signs come and go. I’d rather be “that guy, can’t remember his name any more, but he sure loved the church and the people who went there.”

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!