On July 9, 1943, the Allies invaded the island of Sicily. Within six weeks they had expelled the Axis entirely, opening up Mediterranean sea lanes for Allied ships and setting the stage for the invasion of mainland Italy.
But before the battle was over, in early August, two American servicemen — 1st Lt. Lawrence Taylor (who was a doctor) and Sgt. Milton Spelman — helped a Sicilian woman give birth a baby boy amid the chaos.
As a thank-you to the American doctor, she decided to name the baby Sam after Uncle Sam.
“The shells were landing all about,” Taylor recalled, “but we got through the delivery okay. The mother, who lived in New York once, told us her husband was with an Italian combat unit near Rome and believed in fascism. But she didn’t. Spelman and I became little Sam’s god-fathers.”
So how did Uncle Sam get his name? The Library of Congress says that the origin of the term “Uncle Sam” is obscure, but “[h]istorical sources attribute the name to a meat packer who supplied meat to the army during the War of 1812” — Samuel Wilson (1766-1854) of Troy, New York. According to the story, the soldiers who knew of “Uncle Sam” Wilson began to associate his nickname with the “U.S.” stamp on packaged meats, and over time the nickname simply became associated with anything marked “U.S.”
The name Samuel comes from the Hebrew name Shemuel/Shmuel and is typically defined as “name of God” (shem + el). Another possible definition is “heard of God” (shama + el).
Remember when 3-year-old birthday boy Adolf Hitler Campbell caught everyone’s attention back in 2008 for being named after the most infamous dictator of all time?
Believe it or not, a similar thing happened way back in 1943 — right in the middle of WWII.
Joseph and Bertha Mittel of Astoria, Queens, welcomed their seventh child in January of 1943 and decided to name him Adolf Hitler Mittel.
Joseph said that “the whole thing started as a joke. Before the baby was born, I bet my wife that she would have triplets and that if she didn’t I’d name the baby Adolf Hitler. And I did.”
Bertha didn’t care for the name, “but [she] named the other kids and [she] thought he ought to have his say this once.”
Adolf Hitler Mittel became front-page news across the country. Here’s some of what Joseph told the press:
“Yes, sir, the baby’s name is Adolf Hitler and it’s not a joke.” declared the father, an unemployed woodworker.
“The real Adolf Hitler doesn’t mean anything to me, but I’m of German-Austrian descent and that’s one reason why I picked the name. I don’t think the name will be a handicap, because after all there are lots of people named after persons in the same class as Hitler, such as Napoleon, Caesar and others.
“He’ll grow up and be a good man despite the name.”
Needless to say, the public was not supportive.
And, almost immediately, Joseph announced that he was willing to change it. “I certainly don’t want to hurt the little guy’s future. Judging from the riding the papers and the public are giving us, the only thing to do is to find him another name.”
That new name? The very patriotic Theodore Roosevelt Mittel.
Mother Mittel said she always liked the name Theodore; Father Mittel said she always admired Theodore Roosevelt–and they filed the name forthwith with the Jamaica office of the board of health.
Dr. Ernest L. Stebbins, New York City’s Commissioner of Health at the time, called the name change a “humanitarian move.”
“Dad Willing to Change Name of Son, ‘Adolf Hitler’ Mittel.” Evening News [Tonawanda, NY] 10 Feb. 1943: 6.
“Now It’s Theodore Roosevelt, Not Adolf H.” Deseret News 10 Feb. 1943: 3.
“This World We Live In.” Prescott Evening Courier 10 Feb. 1943: 1.
The small, remote Indian state of Meghalaya has long been known for the colorful names of its residents.
The state typically makes international headlines during election years. Actual candidate names have included…
Adolf Lu Hitler Rangsa Marak
Billy Kid A. Sangma
Darling Wavel Lamare
Fairly Bert Kharrngi
Field Marshal Mawphniang
Frankenstein W. Momin
H. Britain War Dan
Hispreachering Son Shylla
J. Ulysses Nongrum (He has sisters named England, New Zealand, Finland and Switzerland.)
Jhim Carter Sangma
John Manner Marak
Kennedy Cornelius Khyriem
Laborious Manik S. Syiem
Process T. Sawkmie
Rain Augustine Lyngdoh
Romeo Phira Rani
Stafing Jove Langpen Pdahkasiej
Teilang Star Blah
Tony Curtis Lyngdoh
Zenith M. Sangma
Here’s what Adolf Lu Hitler Rangsa Marak had to say about his name:
“Maybe my parents liked the name and hence christened me Hitler,” he recently told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
“I am happy with my name, although I don’t have any dictatorial tendencies.”
Reporters have been writing about the names in Meghalaya for at least a decade, but the strange names have been around a lot longer than that. “My erstwhile escort explained that Khasi parents are fond of naming children after great personalities of the West,” said the author of a 1956 article about Meghalaya’s names. (The article also mentioned Khasi sisters named Million, Billion and Trillion.)
So, why are strange names the norm in Meghalaya? I’ve found various explanations.
One travel article suggests the roots are religious. The names are the “legacy of the missionaries’ work,” it says, though “children now are just as likely to be named after the latest gadget as a saint.” (About 70% of the state is Christian, which is notable, as India overall is only about 2% Christian.)
Another source blames Britain:
The region’s unusual names stem from the state’s close historical links with Britain, explains Agence France-Presse: in colonial times, missionaries and soldiers would visit the hilly state’s capital Shillong, known as the “Scotland of the East,” to escape the overbearing heat of much of the country, and its residents began naming their children with random English words as a nod to that influence.
“Often they don’t know the background of the names. They get attracted to these names for their quest of modernity,” Sanjeeb Kakoty, a history professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong, told AFP.
Yet another source adds two more possibilities. First, that people try to “sound knowledgeable by naming their children after great leaders.” Second, that the names are “part of a culture where laughter is considered important.”
Meghalaya’s three major tribes, the Khasis, the Garos and Jaintias all have Laugh Clubs. Giving their children whacky [sic] names is part of the fun.
“We share the most brazen of jokes at these clubs,” says local historian Milton Sangma.
Which might explain why one of the candidates is Tony Curtis, better known as a Hollywood legend.
“We believe if we laugh heartily at least once or twice a day, we will live long.”
In the late 1980s, Adidas appeared on the SSA’s baby name for three consecutive years:
1989: 5 baby boys named Adidas
1988: 6 baby boys named Adidas
1987: 5 baby boys named Adidas
The name can obviously be traced back to sportswear company Adidas, which was established in 1949 and named after founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler.
But the baby name Adidas was inspired by music, not by sports.
In 1986, Run-DMC released the song “My Adidas” [vid]. The song was written in response to an editorial entitled “Felon Shoes” written by Dr. Deas, who claimed that kids wearing Adidas shoes and nice clothes were drug dealers and “felons.” The Run-DMC song defended the shoes and those who wore them. In an interview, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels explained:
Here’s the perfect chance for us to write about these sneakers, you know, cause it was associated with the hood, and it was associated with so much negativity. We said here’s a way to get back at Dr. Deas, because we looked at ourselves, yeah, we came from the street corner, yeah, you know, we on the corner with the thugs and stuff like that. But you can’t just look at us cause we wear these sneakers and judge us. So, I was like, from my point of view, I wanted to tell Dr. Deas, yeah I wear these sneakers, but my Adidas went around the world. My Adidas changed people’s lives. These Adidas don’t just stand on the corner of Hollis and 2-5th street. I stepped on stage at Live Aid, which was unheard of.
The “corner of Hollis and 2-5th street” (Hollis Avenue and 205th Street) in Hollis, Queens, was renamed Run-DMC JMJ Way in 2009.