Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Landis

Today is the birthday of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, born in Indiana in 1866. Why is that significant? It isn't, really. He was a judge and the first commissioner of organized baseball, but beyond that, his name is what caught my attention.

Landis was named after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia where his father fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War. His father lost a leg in the battle and so named his son after the place. Seems an odd tribute, I think. Imagine if all the soldiers wounded in our current wars were to name their children after the places where they were wounded—we'd have an awful lot of Fallujah Smiths and Baghdad Joneses running loose in a few years.

I have flown a kite on the battleground of Kennesaw Mountain. It was my niece's kite, and the poor kid had to watch while I accidentally let go of the string and let the thing take off above the trees. I like that a piece of ground that saw so much horror would become a place where people would gather for picnics or to fly kites—it helps to redeem it.

But back to this business of naming children something like Kenesaw Mountain. Never mind the misspelling—I just wonder if the man felt marked or if he ever visited the battleground to see where his father lost a leg. I wonder if his name made him serious or gave him a sense of humor. He was known as "the baseball tyrant" and went to his grave with the unfortunate legacy of preventing the integration of baseball, but would he have been more even handed had he been named Bob?

I wonder how the life of Remember Allerton, a little girl on the Mayflower, was affected by her name, having to spend her entire life being referred to by a word with heavy connotations given the context. Her shipmates, Resolved White and Wrestling Brewster, were in the same boat. And here, I have just typed an unintended pun which I will not remove because I like puns.

Last Thanksgiving, one of my brothers-in-law put a great deal of energy into railing against people who make up names for their children and how that practice diminishes society as a whole. I didn't agree with him then, and I don't agree with him now, but I do wonder how the distinctively named people grow into their names—if they wear them like badges or more like yokes.

1 comment:

dive said...

Oh, I do love those bizarre Puritan names, Robyn.

And puns are good. Revel in them.