The nameless Dr. Gatewood

Dr. Wesley Emmett Gatewood and Annie L. Pierrot of Ohio had five children. All five went on to earn Ph.D.s, but only four were given first names.

Their eldest son, born in 1887, was the odd one out. He simply went by Gatewood, sometimes Gatey.

Here’s what Wesley wrote about his one-year-old son’s name in 1888:

I grow more pleased with his strong, simple and unpretentious name. Whatever he may be to others, he is always to me, and let me hope he may ever be to his mother, in pride and sweetest satisfaction the one who bore strongest in purpose and courage…whatever was worthy — the loved representation — strong in his solid singleness, knowing and needing but one name — Gatewood.

Gatewood’s parents believed he would choose a name for himself when he got older, but, like Tifft, Gatewood never felt the need.

During college, one professor “arbitrarily assigned Gatewood the first name Peter. In class, Gatewood refused to respond to his newly given name and the issue was quickly dropped.”

He graduated from Rush Medical College in 1911 and began practicing medicine in Chicago.

In 1917, he applied for a medical military commission. The New York Times made note of it: “An officer without a Christian name was commissioned a First Lieutenant of the Army Medical Reserve Corps a few days ago. The officer’s name is Gatewood, and he comes from Chicago.”

Around this time, some started to call him “Blank” to differentiate him from his brother, Lee, who was also a doctor in Chicago.

Dr. Gatewood married nurse Esther Lydia Harper in 1923. She disliked being called Mrs. Blank Gatwood, so she referred to herself as Mrs. Gatewood Gatewood. They had three children, all with first names: Emmett Harper and Esther Helen (twins, b. 1924) and Mary Jean (b. 1926).

When Mrs. Gatewood delivered nonidentical twins, the infants were waggishly called Blank and Blankette in the nursery until conventional names were given.

TIME remarked on Dr. Gatewood’s passing in mid-1939: “His parents never gave him a first name, left him to choose his own. Because he could not find one to suit him, he died first-nameless.”


  • “Army and Navy Notes.” New York Times 24 Feb. 1918.
  • “Death Takes Man Who Never Had First Name” Reading Eagle 23 May 1939: 22.
  • “Hey, You!” Chicago Tribune 6 Feb. 1918: 3.
  • Jean Kohn Biography
  • Meals, Roy A. and Garry S. Brody. “Gatewood and the First Thenar Pedicle.” American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons 73.2 (1984): 315-319.
  • Milestones.” TIME Magazine 5 Jun. 1939.
  • Miller, Edwin W. “Doctor Gatewood.” Annals of Surgery 113.1 (1941): 158-159.

3 thoughts on “The nameless Dr. Gatewood

  1. Esther & Gatewood are my Grandparents. Emmett is my Father. My sister’s name is “Lyda”. I tried to name our youngest son Gatewood, but my lovely bride would have no part in such a thing. I am very proud of our family, and its noteworthy history. One side is Medical, and the other is Mechanical.

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