Friday, February 18, 2011

Byline of the century

The great Chris Jones of Esquire magazine wrote the other day about some of his favorite bylines -- not so much for the writing (although they're all fine writers), but just for the sound of the names.

Being a Tommy (it's Tommy on my birth certificate) has caused the occasional problem in print. At my first paper in Augusta, Ga., I wrote a story a reader didn't like, so she wrote a letter to the editor saying it was obvious you couldn't trust a story from a reporter with a "childish euphemism" for a name.

My nickname was Childish Euphemism around the newsroom for a while.

When I applied to the Observer back in 1989, they sent me some papers to critique, and the first thing I noticed was all the tremendous bylines. I fell in love with three right away: John Wildman, Lolo Pendergrast, and the best of them all, Tex O'Neill.

After I got hired I found out that John Wildman was a mellow guy -- he left the paper to become a mailman (I imagined a series of adventure novels: "John Wildman, Mailman.") Lolo Pendergrast turned out to be even wilder than her name. And Tex O'Neill in the flesh didn't look like a Tex or an O'Neill, but he was a brave reporter who kept a huge aquarium and collected arrowheads.

All of which leads me to this.

Last night a bunch of us from the paper went to the North Carolina Press Association awards, where we brought home some bling. As part of the ceremony, they read off the names of everyone who won an award. The contest is split into six divisions, from the smallest papers to the largest, so it adds up to hundreds of names.

Well, there's a little paper up in the mountains called the Cherokee One Feather -- I believe it covers the members of the Cherokee tribe up there. One of its staffers won an award. His name:

Scott M. Brings Plenty.

I submit that as the Greatest Byline of All Time. And I don't even want to know what the M. stands for.


Brad said...

Tommy, really enjoyed this blog post. Heck. I enjoy all of your posts. I'm relatively new to reading it, but, rest assured, I will continue to read. (I'm also hoping to learn more about your writing process.)

Anonymous said...

That really is an awesome name! Can relate to your euphamism problem - my husband is Robb legally. It never gets spelled correctly and he gets called Robert a lot. But I suppose he couldbe called worse. ;)

Anonymous said...

I once knew a writer who was prone to writing very long stories... he wrote under the pseudonym of Warren Peace.

Jeremy Markovich said...

J. Jonah Jameson is my favorite newspaper name, albeit fictional.

Anonymous said...

I totally turned to my seat mate when that name was called last night & proclaimed that I wish I had married Scott M. just so I could Mrs. Brings Plenty!

GetGoneAgain said...

*(it's Tommy on my birth certificate)

I love it. My dad's birth certificate reads "Bill," not "William."

What's more, on my step-father's birth certificate his name read "Larry." Not Lawrence.

Not sure I can top your byline entry... but I've always liked the sound of "by Dexter Filkins."

Anonymous said...

My birth certificate reads Ray, but I get called Raymond on occasion. I had a friend back in WV whose name was Dick Long. Enough said.

Anonymous said...


Back in the early to mid 60's the
Observer had a great feature writer
whose by-line was "J.A.C. Dunn".

Copy Boys don't forget the names
of nice reporters like Mr. Dunn
and Kayes Gary.

Speaking of name changes, my mother
took a ball point pen and changed
my birth certificate name from
Thomas to Theodore when I was 3
years old. My older brother thought
I might be a better baseball player
if people called me Ted, as in
Ted Williams. He was wrong. I had
to get my name changed legally
after I showed up at the Trooper Office with that particular birth
certificate. I still have both
birth certificates...So much for
Mom cutting the red tape.

Kim said...

I think the South is notorious for naming children after someone they admire but sometimes don't think about the implications. I had a great uncle named after the doctor who delivered him; official birth certificate name: Doctor Bennett Queen. Fortunately, his family called him Bennett but strangers were confused, I am sure!

Scott M. Brings Plenty said...

Hello, I am Scott :)
Thanks for the comments. My surname is actually an English-translated version from Lakota language of my great-great-grandfather's name "Ota Agli" which roughly translates as Brings Plenty. Legal name...on my driver's license :)

The Cherokee One Feather is locatedon the Cherokee Indian Reservation so there are many interesting names here, but many more so back in South Dakota.

Toni L.P. Kelner said...

I know this is an old post, but I saw John Wildman's name and that caught my attention. I took a journalism class from him back when he was at the CHARLOTTE NEWS and I was at UNCC. I really learned a lot, and still share some of his stories about the ethics of journalism.

I didn't end up going into journalism, but I do write, and he was one of the best writing teachers I had.

You say he left to become a mail carrier? Do you have an email address for him. I'd love to say, "Hey!"