Don’t Mess with a Cowboy’s Name

“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.


One Response

  1. My dad always said you had to get the name right because “a man’s name is to him the most beautiful word in the English language.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: