What’s in a name?

Mark Green Special to the Democrat
Booneville Democrat

Solomon told us that a good name is worth more than great riches. Certainly a bad name is a great detriment to any individual. I have read that the reason that shooting a man for calling you a liar was considered justifiable homicide in the Old West was because no one would do business with a man whose word was not good, and he consequently would be threatened with financial ruin.

An illustration of the damage that a bad name can do is found in the case of Judas. There are several Judases mentioned in the Bible, and as far as I know all except the infamous one were of commendable character. However, the stigma that Judas Iscariot brought to the name is so great that rarely have we seen it given to a child in the last 2000 years.

In our family, we have a real-life case of the burden of having to “live down” a name. My wife’s maternal grandfather was named Ralph A. Kramer. He was born in the United States around the turn of the century. The problem was that since that other Adolf was only a school child at the time, that name had not then become infamous.

Yes, Granddaddy Kramer’s middle name was Adolph. Can you imagine having to live in the United States during World War II with that name? Every time you had to write your full name on a form, there it was, staring at you – and everyone else staring at you, as well. It would be like being named Attila during the early Middle Ages.

The problem was that there was no stigma at all upon the name Adolph at the time Granddaddy was born (just as there was no stigma on the name Judas when he was born). Ralph’s parents probably did not think twice about giving it to him. My wife’s people were of sturdy German stock, and Adolph was a common name among them. For example, Adolph Rupp won 876 games as the basketball coach at Kentucky. Coach Rupp probably faced the same problem – having to try to sanitize a name that someone else had soiled.

However, lest we forget, World War I had also been fought against Germany (and even against Hitler himself, who was a Lance Corporal in the German army). Granddaddy Kramer did his part for the USA, almost losing his life as a part of the early Army Air Corps during the First World War.

One of our family’s most treasured memorabilia is the actual telegram form that was sent to Ralph’s mother letting her know that he had been rescued from the USS Tuscania. That was a luxury liner that had been converted into a troop carrier during the War. On 24 January 1918, she was torpedoed by German U-boat UB-77, with the loss of 210 troops and crew. However, many others were rescued by Royal Navy destroyers Mosquito and Pigeon and an Irish fishing craft. We assume that Granddaddy Kramer was taken aboard one of those vessels.

One notable passenger on the Tuscania was Harry R. Truman. He lived in Washington at the foot of Mount St. Helens and is presumed to have died in the eruption of that volcano in 1980 after he refused to evacuate.

So, Ralph Adolph Kramer did his part in the first war against Germany, and lived to tell about it. He returned to the States to make a good name for himself as a respected merchant in the Alma area. And I am very happy about that, because if he had not lived through it, I would have been short one wife.