What’s in a Name?

When I was a child in grade school I hated my last name. Higginbotham… How was a six year old supposed to remember the correct order for 12 letters and four syllables? Everyone else had easy names. Smith…Jones...Hall…how easy could it get? I had to teach my own kids how to spell Higginbotham by making up a song using the letters. How embarrassing. Besides, no one could pronounce my name correctly. How do the letters "Higg" sound like "Hick"? And "botham" obviously has a "th" and not "tt". I am convinced that many years ago our ancestors got so tired of correcting people that they finally gave up and gave in to the various spellings and pronunciations we have today. How I longed for the day I could legally change my name. But as I grew older I found that the name isn’t so bad after all.

I realize that some people make a living from researching the origins of names (where do you apply for those jobs?) and I’m not going to dwell on whether we descend from the "Higgins in the bottom land" or an oak tree in Germany that has probably been cut down by now. I’ll leave that to Daniel Webster and Alex Thesaurus to figure out.

Prior to beginning my career (I’m still waiting for my first paycheck) as an amateur genealogist the most outlandish spelling I had encountered came from a Valentine card my wife received from one of her 2nd grade students. Obviously written by the child’s parent, the card was addressed to "Mrs. Huckmaboom". I decided right then and there that I was no longer going to correct anyone again.

Another reality I stumbled across as an adult was the phone solicitation. Usually coming at dinnertime, I was increasingly amused at the painful and fractured way that they would pronounce the name. "Can I speak to Mr. Hy….Heg…Hagg…in…booth…both….um, please?" was the typical stammering attempt. You could almost hear the sweat popping out on their forehead as they tried to figure out exactly what they were trying to say. One of the advantages was that I could reply, "There is no one here by that name" and not be lying about it. It got to the point that if they could correctly pronounce my name I would actually allow them to make their pitch before politely declining their offer and hanging up. I’ll bet most telemarketers just skip the hard names.

Another of my favorites is hearing a clerk or receptionist asking "Can you spell that, please?" to which I could reply, "Of course I can. It’s my name. The question is, can you?" I still enjoy watching the so-called "know-it-alls" just writing it down as if they knew what they were doing. What fools. I am still hopeful that someone will knock "Huckmaboom" from its lofty perch as "King of the Misspellings".

Like I said before, when I started researching the Higginbotham family in West Virginia I thanked God from the bottom (or should I say botham) of my heart that I had this name. After flipping through 200 pages of Halls, Hills and Hicks I would uncover the six or so Higginbotham’s listed in the birth indexes. I am glad my name is not Hall now.

As the years pass, there are many things we can be thankful for. Good health, jobs, warm homes and happy children are some of things that come to mind so easily. For me? I am thankful that my name is Higginbotham.  It could have been worse....