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famous names A while back George magazine tracked down people who have politicians' names (a black woman named Pat Buchanan; a social worker named Al Gore). During the 1998 NBA finals, the Chicago Tribune interviewed a bunch of guys named Michael Jordan. Finding people with famous people's names is cute, but what about their lives? If your name is Bill Clinton, wouldn't it get old to have everyone saying, "You mean, like the president?"?
I mailed a questionnaire to 43 ordinary people who share famous people's names. Alas, the only Roseanne Barr in the country other than the comedienne has moved from her stoop in Trinity, Alabama (or perhaps she died of embarrassment). A Shannon Doherty was actually Shannon Doug. Two of three Clint Eastwoods left no forwarding address. More than one letter to John Lennon or Bob Dole came back stamped "No Such Address." Howard Stern of Little Rock returned his questionnaire but didn't fill it out.
After months of waiting (people with famous peoples' names can get busy), I received seven completed surveys from semi-famous folks (a 16 percent response rate among people with famous names). Let's take a look.


Bill Clinton
Washington, Indiana

Bill sent me a clipping from the Indianapolis Star, "What's in a name? For Hoosier Bill Clintons, a little mirth." A concrete truck driver, he's among four Bill Clintons in Indiana and 20 in the United States. He told the Star, "I tell people that I'm Bill Clinton and I live in Washington, D.C. — that's Washington in Daviess County. I also live in a white house and I have a brother named Roger who lives in North Carolina."

How did you get your name?
I have always had the name Bill. It was taken from William. I didn't know about the other guy until three or four years ago.

Do people comment about your name?
When I tell people my name, they don't believe me. But it doesn't annoy me. I tell them I'm the real Bill Clinton and that other guy is an impostor.

Would you change your name?
No, I like my name.

Did you vote for him?
I voted for myself, sure.

When you see your name in the newspaper, are you tempted to clip the articles?
No, there are too many.


Gerald R. Ford
Pittsburg, California

Mr. Ford was the only one of five Gerald R. Fords to respond, which showed good Midwestern values that the former president would have appreciated.

How did you get your name?
I was named 20 years before the former president gained national prominence. My mother liked the name Jerry. My middle name is a family name, after my paternal grandfather. But my middle name is Richard, and the former president's is Rudolph.

Do people comment about your name?
I get comments about 70 percent of the time. Most usual is "Mr. President!" I promise them I won't fall down. The teasing is always good-natured and friendly. I respond with whatever wit I have at the time. I'm used to it since from birth I'd gotten comments because of Glen Ford and Henry Ford and everybody's cars.

Do you like your name?
As a child I didn't like Gerald, and as a teen in World War II, Jerry was not a good name to have [it was military slang for German]. But I've grown into it since.

What do you think of your famous counterpart? Did you vote for him?
I believe that Gerald Ford restored dignity to the presidency after the terrible ordeal of the Nixon resignation. I did vote for him. His name made no difference.

Any funny anecdotes you like to tell friends?
When Representative Ford was gaining a national name as the Republican minority whip in 1960, I was a Navy ensign going to school in the Washington, D.C., area. One night when I presented my Diner's Club card to the maitre d' on the way into a nice restaurant. I was treated very very well. On the way out I was told, "Come back soon, Mr. Congressman."


Ronald McDonald
Rolla, Missouri

Mr. McDonald's wife answered the survey for him, since he and 64 other guys around the country who share his name are probably sick to death of morons like me asking about it. His wife has beautiful cursive handwriting. She signed the survey Mrs. R.E. McDonald.

How did you get your name?
My husband was not named after anyone. His parents somehow liked the name. He was born in 1934, long before McDonald's was a thought.

Have you ever met your famous counterpart?
We do know a man who played the Ronald McDonald clown for this area.

Do people comment about the name?
All the time. I dread using our credit card, especially outside Rolla, because I knew we'll get remarks like "You've got to be kidding!" "Who would name a kid that?" or "How's business?" My husband handles it well but it is stressful at times.

Do you like your name?
Our friends and family call my husband Ron.

Have you ever been teased about your name?
We used to get phone calls during the night from kids at parties who would ask if they could order some Big Macs. Again, you can laugh at the first few but after a while it is pretty annoying.

Do you eat at McDonald's often?
Never.

Any funny anecdotes you tell friends?
In the early 1980s we were traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, when we stopped for gas. After a credit card was given, we noticed the young attendant with another young man pointing at us. They came over and said, "Are you really Ronald McDonald?" My husband quietly answered, "Sure, I'm the original" and we drove off. Also, my husband is active in a social service club in Rolla and the parents are always bringing their children up to meet Ronald McDonald.
Here's an "unfunny" incident: Our daughter was crowned homecoming queen at her high school in the middle 1970s and when they announced her name, they added that she was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald McDonald. There was a loud laughing in part of the crowd and it was an embarrassing moment on an otherwise perfect evening.
I wish parents would think long and hard before they name their children.


David Letterman
Clayton, Delaware

I forgot to ask Dave if he gets a lot of speeding tickets.

How did you get your name?
When I was born in the 1950s, my parents gave me the name David after the David of the Bible.

Do people comment about your name?
I've heard it all. They have a lot of smart remarks that they think are cute. I always have a snappy comeback.

Would you change your name?
Absolutely not.

Have you ever been teased about your name?
I wouldn't stand for it.

What do you think of your famous counterpart?
I haven't seen him too much, but he is humorous.

Is it weird to hear your name on the news?
No, but my kids get a kick out of it.

Any funny anecdotes that you tell friends?
Not really, but I do find that my name opens doors all over the country when I call people on business. What's not so funny is when people call you at 3 a.m. and ask if you are Dave Letterman, then laugh and hang up before you get a chance to give them a sound cussing.


David Letterman
Arlington, Virginia

My second Dave wanted to know about other Daves, so I sent him a list.

How did you get your name?
I was named first.

Have you ever met your famous counterpart?
I've been to the Late Show once, but we didn't meet.

Do people comment about your name?
Every day. They ask things like, "Do people always comment about your name?" Occasionally I'm asked for a "Top Ten" list or "Who's on the show?" or "You fixed the gap in your teeth" or "I bet you wish you had his money" or "Yeah, right, that's funny, now what's your real name?" I'm in sales so I constantly have to introduce myself.

What do you think of your famous counterpart?
Letterman is great. Maybe not as cutting edge as he used to be but still clever.

When you see your name in the newspaper, are you tempted to clip the articles?
It used to be weird but I don't even notice it anymore.

Any funny anecdotes?
Every day I have funny run-ins. Every day, day after day, year after year. It's kind of bizarre when I think about it.


Marcia Brady
Waterbury, Connecticut

All grown up, Marcia Brady is a high school French teacher.

How did you get your name?
For 23 years my name was Marcia Liberatore. In 1969, I married Robert Brady. Since then, I've been Marcia Brady.

Have you ever met your famous counterpart?
Never had the pleasure.

Do people comment about your name?
People comment all the time. It never has annoyed me except for 24 years ago when I was in labor and all the nurses came to see Marcia Brady having a baby. Delightful. Many people believe that my last name is the name I was born with, and that I was named after the TV character. I find that flattering since I'm much older than that. Also, the TV character is blond and I'm brunette. The Italian version.

Do you like your name?
Yes, and I would never change it. However, I would change my legs with liposuction. At 50 they don't look that great anymore.

Have you ever been teased about your name?
All the time. I just laugh.

What do you think of your famous counterpart?
No thoughts. I'm indifferent.

Any funny anecdotes?
My classes are known as "The Brady Bunch." Recently two of my students won a poetry contest, but we didn't realize it because the announcer referred to our team as "The Bradé Bunch."


Sean Penn
Atlanta, Georgia

There was no one in the national phone directory named Madonna Ciccone.

How did you get your name?
There is no good story for it. The actor was born before me but didn't become a star until Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out in 1982. That was when my name became famous. Although I've always gone by Sean, my first name is actually William. People who learn that usually say something about the founder of Pennsylvania.

Do people comment about your name?
Everyone asks how Madonna is. I try to laugh and make the person feel like they are the first person to make that joke. I have been mistaken for the actor twice, both times when I ordered something over the phone.

What do you think of your counterpart?
I enjoy his work. He's a good actor and an excellent director. His body of work is varied and I think it shows great range.

When you see his name in the paper, are you tempted to clip the article?
I save magazines where Sean Penn has appeared on the cover. I have several issues of Rolling Stone.

Any funny anecdotes?
I once called Vaurnet in California to order some sunglasses. When I gave them my name, they said I was already on the mailing list and that my address was in Redondo Beach, California. I had them change it.


news update

When El Niño wreaked havoc with the weather, Al Nino's phone wouldn't stop ringing. "It's always something like, 'Why are you doing this?' " he said. "I usually joke around with them a bit," telling callers he's playing with the weather because "I didn't have nothing else to do."


visitor feedback

From Tracey Austin:
Hi. Tracey Austin here. OK, you may or may not know who she is, but let me tell you I have had my share of tennis jokes since I married my husband. I used to work with Joan Fontaine and my sister once met a Jimmy Carter. Poor people. I also have run across an Isaac Newton, Darren Stevens and Samuel (Sammy) Hager. I think we should form a club or coalition, or mutiny.

From Tracey Austin:
I also get tortured at times, but not so much because many are too young to know the name nowadays. I too inherited the name from my husband. I got razzed the most when I went to the hospital for therapy for my arms from a work injury. I got at least one comment every time asking whether it was a tennis injury. I still love the name. After all, it could of been worse, and I prefer it greatly to my maiden name (Caney). With that one I got candy, can-ie and coney so one can't win or lose with last names. We all hate them for one reason or another.

From Meg Ryan:
My name is Meg Ryan, and I found your website to be pretty darn interesting, especially the famous name part. It kinda hit home.

From Connie Boudreaux:
I noticed under the description about Marcia Brady that her husband's name was Robert Brady. Bobby is a nickname for Robert, right? As in, Bobby Brady?


This article first appeared in my fanzine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, Issue 13.

See also: Celebrity Postal Test

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