Genealogy, I am Spewing It

Want to hear about my ancestry? Too bad. Here goes.

I was named after my grandfather, whose name is John. His ancestors (this is my mother’s side we’re taking about here) lived in China until the 1500s, when they decided that England would be a better place for people named Merrifield. In the 1600s, they were bought as slaves for the Mayflower, and they wound up in America, where they’ve been ever since, despite constant efforts to make them leave.

My father’s ancestors came from Germany. They were exiled to France about seven generations ago when they couldn’t get the hang of speaking German without hocking loogies. They had a lucrative business just prior to the French Revolution, selling cake to the peasants under the direction of Marie Antoinette. Eventually, they migrated to a place where they had to learn another foreign language — Arkansas.

The reason I know all this is that my father received a genealogy computer program for Christmas, and shortly thereafter, went scooters over his dead relatives. Just mention anything having to do with forefathers, or ancestors, or family, or carburetors, or garbage disposals, or thermonuclear weapons or ANYTHING, and he’ll tell you that he has great-great-great aunts and uncles named Arkansas and Tennessee, and that his great-great-great-grandfather, twice-removed, over four columns and down nine, had 19 children by two wives. And you, recalling what Miss Manners has said on this very subject, would politely fall asleep.

Since the actual subject matter of this week’s column is supposed to be names (I get sidetracked sometimes), let me give you future parents some pointers on naming your children.

  • Avoid giving them verbs for names, such as Skip and Neal. Someone I heard about had a dog (and dogs are a lot like children, but with more common sense) that was named Stay. This person would say, “Come here, Stay! Come here, Stay!” and the dog would become very confused. Don’t do this to your children.
  • Naming your children after Jesus’ apostles is fine, as long as you avoid Judas.
  • The only vowel that is an acceptable first letter for a name is A. E, I, O and U are all out, except for one obvious magnificent boy’s name beginning with E.
  • Don’t name all of your kids with the same first initial. This is Yuppie-esque, and, in some states, illegal. To avoid this temptation, don’t marry anyone whose name starts with the same letter as yours.

After my aunt’s first son, Stephen, was born, she decided that she was going to have each of her additional boys’ names start with S and end with N. “Sean” would have been okay, and “Sebastian” would be livable, but the only one I can think of after that is “Satan,” which probably wouldn’t have looked very good on his resumé. Imagine the family reunions …

“Hello, this is Cousin Satan. Satan, I’d like you to meet my 14th cousin, 7.4 times removed, Arkansas, her husband, Bob, and their children — Edwina, Egbert, Edward, and Simon Peter.”

Laaaame. What do you want, I wasn't even 16 yet.

The information about my family is true. I really do have ancestors named Arkansas and Tennessee, and there really was a guy with 19 kids by two wives (he was only married to one at a time, though). And my aunt really did plan to name her kids with S and N. Truth can be stranger than fiction. Not funnier, maybe, but stranger.

The bit about having a dog named Stay was stolen directly from deadpan comedian Steven Wright. At the time, he was not terribly well known except to people like me who listened to the Dr. Demento Show. Now he's pretty famous, and I think that joke is one of his more popular ones. I am ashamed at having stolen it. Did I mention I wasn't even 16 yet? I was young and needed the money.