What a Difference a Name Makes!

©2011 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: The following column was originally published in 1982 in The Monahans News, during my term as editor there. In 2011, I included it among the 200 articles and columns published in my CD book collectively titled A West Texas Journalist.
Since it was written more than three decades ago and is solely concerned with Texas political figures, it is obviously very localized and dated now — actually, it is more of an historical document. However, it yet bears some timeliness, as the electorate is still vulnerable to confusion when looking at politicians’ names. (I was very frustrated during this current primary campaign because I could find so little information on some of the statewide candidates.) Also, I believe it retains some interest through its humor: hardly any Texas election campaign ever goes by that was not funny in various ways. We’ve got more political clowns than any other state in the Union…although South Carolina and Arizona are hot on our heels.
Anyway, sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it.
—BL

We received a political news release from State Comptroller Bob Bullock this week in which he thanks the press for their coverage of both primaries, Democrat as well as Republican.

“I feel I can appreciate it more than most,” said Bullock, noting that he had had as his opponent in the Democratic primary a man named Robert C. Calvert.  “The name ‘Robert Calvert’ is an honored and respected name among the people of Texas and has been for more than 40 years.

“Mr. Robert S. Calvert, now deceased, was state comptroller for some 26 years.

“The Honorable Robert W. Calvert is a former member of the Texas Legislature, former speaker of the House, former member of the Constitutional Revision Commission, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, and now a practicing attorney in Austin.

“Mr. Robert C. Calvert was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for state comptroller, as I was.”

The daily papers in Texas did, in fact, explain the differences in persons in an attempt to eliminate as much confusion as possible.  That particular situation in itself did not strike me as so remarkable as the number of similar instances in Texas’ recent past.

You perhaps remember the case back in 1976 when Don Yarbrough of Houston was elected to the Texas Supreme Court.  That happened because many voters mistook him—or rather his name—for either Ralph Yarborough, former U.S. senator from Texas, or for Don Yarborough, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

The state legislature held a rare hearing in early 1977 to consider Yarbrough’s removal because of charges of forgery and perjury against him.  In the midst of the hearing, Yarbrough suddenly resigned, and Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Charles W. Barrow to replace him.

During this latest Democratic primary, Barrow himself was considered by some observers a sort of name-magnet for John M. Baron, who nevertheless failed in his attempt for a seat on the State Supreme Court.

Then we have the politicians with names nobody would wish off on even a politician—especially a politician.  But we shouldn’t hold them to account for what their parents do to them.

Take for instance Warren G. Harding, present state treasurer, who is bowing out of the runoff against Ann Richards, for Travis County commissioner.  Apparently, Harding was named after the 29th president of the United States, during whose term in office the Teapot Dome scandal occurred.  This latter day Harding, however, at age 61, was obviously born before the Teapot Dome affair (which began in 1922) and therefore was named after a man who was still considered ethical and moral in the minds of most Americans.  Ironically, the state treasurer is letting the runoff pass him by because he is under the cloud of two indictments handed down April 23rd accusing him of having two state employees work on his campaign.

Another judge, Woodrow Wilson Bean, had two names he could play with—Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the U.S.; and Judge Roy Bean, the so-called “Law West of the Pecos”.  He chose to play with the latter.  The modern day Bean, as a matter of fact, was the judge who unsuccessfully tried to defeat Texas Supreme Court Justice Charles Barrow in the Democratic primary.

Now, I can understand why Bean wouldn’t want to play up the Woodrow Wilson part of his name, because, rather than crooked, President Wilson has gone down in the history books as rather too virtuous and idealistic and uncompromising.  So much so that he eviscerated the Versailles Treaty.

But the present day judge’s use of Judge Roy Bean was getting a little too folksy, if you ask me.  (Which I realize you didn’t.)

All of these instances make me wonder if some parents don’t purposely name their children after historical personages with the idea in mind that such names will be of some assistance in the glorious political campaigns of the future.  As I’ve tried to illustrate above, however, that design can backfire.

I think it would be wiser — if one insists on endowing babies with historical names — to choose those of daring desperadoes.  That’s what the sage parents of former State Treasurer Jesse James did.  With a name like that, you can’t go anywhere but up in the world.

— The Monahans News, May 9, 1982

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