What’s Going On: Life with a … difficult … last name

When I read its description, I thought the movie might have been made for me, and about me:

“How do perfectly ordinary, normal people cope with the extraordinary challenge of an embarrassing, provocative, famous or unbelievable name? This documentary examines the phenomena of ‘strange names.'”

My name is Gregory Orear. And no, that’s not pronounced OR-EAR, or OR-AR, or some weird French sounding OH-REE-A.

It’s as bad as you it could be.


Its fun when the telemarketer calls and clearly hasn’t looked at the name and figured out its pronunciation ahead of time. You can tell they want to say it, but just can’t bring themselves to do it so they’ll stumble around any of those alternate pronunciations.

However, it wasn’t fun having that last name in school where bullies and nitwits run rampant and unchecked.

As a result, I became familiar with the litany of clever variations my name so readily provides.

O-butt. O-hiney. Oh-my-rear. O-pain-in-the-rear. O’Queer. And my favorite, Oh-no-rear!

I could keep going, but you get the idea.

The name of the 52-minute documentary is “Strange Names” and my only complaint was there weren’t any Orears in it. However, there was a Linda Slutsky, a Ronald McDonald, a Howard Schmuck, an Elena Cockburn and two Donald Ducks.

Some people were saddled with what had been a normal name turned peculiar like Donald Trump, Al Capone, Paul and his wife Linda McCartney, Adolph Hitler, or Guenther Frankenstein.

“Once (Mary) Shelly came up with that book, that ruined our good name; that book,” Frankenstein said with a dry smile mixed with a touch of animosity.

Others simply had … let’s call them difficult … last names. The Cobbledicks. The Putz’s. The Crapo’s.

And some had bad combinations that made you ask “Why would their parents do that?” Barb Dwyer (say it fast). Smoki Bacon. Tim Burr.

“I did it out love,” Burr’s mom said.

And then there was the two Donald Ducks. So okay, your last name is Duck. That’s not terrible if your first name is Bill. Or Joe. Or Mike. But Donald? Just why?

Turns out Donald Duck Sr. was born before the cartoon character emerged. And while the Disney Duck was fairly well known when Donald Duck Junior was born, Senior didn’t care enough at the time to not pass on his name. So junior did the same when he had a son in the 1990s, and that son, currently unmarried, promises his son will carry on the name as well.

While the names varied, the stories were similar to my own experience. After or as a result of the childhood ribbing over the name (which never really ends when dealing with adults) you learn to live with it, adapt to it (frequently with humor) and eventually learn to love it.

“My grandfather once told me, ‘You may be embarrassed about your name now. But one day you’ll be happy about it’,” Rob Crapo said.

He pronounces his name CRAY-PO (wink, wink) because you know, the invisible Y. But in reality, he’s embraced reality instead of fighting it.

“In business, it’s great. People always get it wrong the first time, but then they never forget it,” Crapo said. “When someone asks how to spell it, I say it’s ‘crap’ with an ‘o’ on the end.”

And while there were times I hated my last name as a child, as Mr. Crapo’s grandpa promised, I’m happy with it today and on at least one occasion, I found it to be quite useful.

I had recently moved into a new town where I knew no one. I needed to find a primary care provider and looked up the list of available doctors, where one stood out from the pack.

As soon as I saw the name, I knew this would be a man who could literally feel my pain. Without speaking one word or ever seeing him, I knew we had shared experiences.

Plus, I knew it would be fun each and every time I walked into his office and approached the receptionist where I would proudly state:

“Greg Orear here to see Dr. Butz.”


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.