“I cannot tell what the dickens his name is.” — Mrs. Page in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare
TV Land sent me an e-mail today notifying me of a weeklong marathon of “The Brady Bunch” episodes celebrating the series’ 40th anniversary. I know all the Bradys’ names: Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy. And Alice.
I also know the names of the Cartwrights of the old western TV show, “Bonanza.” That’s why I was shocked — shocked, I say — when I saw in the same e-mail a promotional ad encouraging me to follow the adventures of Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little John. Little John?!
Yes, TV Land — the last bastion of bad TV — had bastardized Little Joe Cartwright’s good name. So I did what any good editor would do. I sent TV Land an e-mail telling them of their error. They wrote back with an apology, which is fine, but I hope they corrected the error.
Now, before you think I’ve become a crotchety old curmudgeon when it comes to spelling and grammar, let me just say that errors regarding a person’s name — even that of a fictional cowboy — are especially egregious. And I should know.
My first job after college was that of reporter for a weekly newspaper that, at the time, was highly respected throughout Virginia. Part of the reason it garnered such respect was because it was a fine product with excellent reporting, writing that sparkled and compelling photos. Another reason was because its editor, Jay Pace, was a patient mentor to his young staff.
A memorable assignment for me was to profile a young man who had become a champion rodeo cowboy. It was a fun story. I spent several hours talking with the guy, our photographer took some great pictures and I could tell this was going to be a beautiful package. So I told of Freddie’s accomplishments, I quoted Freddie liberally and I wrote a story that I was sure Freddie would proudly show his family and friends and fellow cowboys. The story of Freddie published the following week.
The only problem is the cowboy’s name was Frankie.
I was devastated. Not only did I embarrass myself, but I also embarrassed Frankie. I apologized profusely and he took it in stride. But I could just see all his rodeo cowboy friends, laughing and calling him Freddie. I had messed up the one thing you just don’t mess with — a person’s name. And a cowboy’s name at that! You just don’t.
I can unequivocally say that I never made that mistake again. When I’ve written about people — and I’ve written about a lot of people in the 25 years since then — I’ve always double-checked the spelling of their names. When I’ve edited other people’s work, I’ve verified the spelling of names if I had the slightest doubt.
Life’s circumstances might take a lot of things away from us, but it can never take away our names. Everyone deserves to have their name treated with respect and spelled properly.
Even Little Joe Cartwright.