Following is the essay you can designate as Volume 10, Number 14 of This Week's Clue, based on the e-mail newsletter I have produced since March, 1997. Enjoy.
Coming up I didn’t much care for mine. When I was young it was called a “girl’s name,” since after the 1950s most American kids given the name Dana were girls. The last name was a drag, too. It was filled with “n’s” and frequently misspelled – Blakenhorn, Blankenship, Blankehorn.
But a rose by any name, if it’s your name, does smell sweet. And I learned, over time, that what my name lacked in charm it made up for in branding.
In the Internet Age a unique name is a valuable advantage. If your name is Johnny Jones you’re going to remain hard to find no matter what you do. All the other Johnny Jones’ make each individual anonymous.
I don’t have that trouble. Recently I learned why.
The story starts in Poland, in the early 19th century. Family legend has it that the Korzeneskis trained the horses of the royal family. The Korzeneskis were noblemen. And it was natural that their son Joseph should have a fine education.
So he was sent to England. And there he fell in love, with a chambermaid named Jackson. He married her, and the couple was disowned as lower class.
Around the same time there was a noble house in Germany. The Counts were noble vassals of the Holy Roman Empire, lords of their counties. One such was Count von Blankenhorn. He had a castle, which has since been destroyed. He had serfs, who took his name. Was it a descendent of the Count or a serf who traveled to Ellis Island in 1892, signed his name Gotlop, and then was known as George? No telling. But whether he came from the castle or the keep, he brought with him that heritage of discipline, and a stern lack of forgiveness.
It was a strict family. Gotlop’s son, Frederick , disowned his father when, in later life, he dishonored him. Frederick raised his younger sister Anna as his own, he presided over the family much like a German count, and he gave his name to his own first-born. That first-born (left) rejected him in turn, and became a wanderer, first with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, then on his own.
Meanwhile one of Joseph Korzeneski’s daughters, Mary (above), had moved to America and married a John O’Donnell. She had two children, Edmund and Mary Mathilda. Edmund served in the Great War, then married a Mary Cooney. She bore him a daughter, whom they named Mathilda, for the aunt.
They called her Tillie.
When Tillie was just four Edmund died. The cause was listed as kidney failure. He may have been a delayed victim of the war, and poison gas in the Europe which the grandmother had fled. The mother’s heart was broken. She became a “party girl,” smoking and drinking. Mary Korzeneski became, in some sense, the granddaughter’s mother, and the aunt her father. They were highly successful. Tillie earned a college degree.
When Mary Korzeneski lay dieing, in 1951, Tillie was in California, working as a teacher and seeking work as an actress. Her lover was the German wanderer, Frederick, and he now faced a choice. He loved California with a passion, he hated the New York which had raised him. He didn’t care much for Grandma either, and she, a proud Pole, didn’t much care for him. He wore his German heritage on his sleeve, although he spoke not a word of it. Still, he loved Tillie more than he feared anything. They came east and, in Las Vegas, they married.
A few years later Fred and Tillie had a son. Me (right). My father wanted a strong, German name, Frederick Carl. My mother sought to honor her father, Edmund, and added the name Dana because, she said, she just liked it. She’d named my sister Michael, so her tastes were her own, and not to be turned aside lightly.
They compromised, on Dana Frederick Blankenhorn.
In a way that’s the end of the story. Save for this.
After my father died, in 1999, I happened to be perusing a baby name book. The book explained the meanings of various names and where they came from. I casually turned to my own name. It means someone from Denmark. And it’s Polish.
Somehow, from the grave, Mary Korzeneski O’Donnell had snuck a Polish name past a stiff-necked German who liked to marinate sauerbraten in the basement and sometimes called himself “a true Aryan” when he was in his cups.
So far as I know, I’m the only such in the world. I have heard of no other Dana Blankenhorns, anywhere, here or in Europe. Enter Dana-Blankenhorn into Google or Yahoo and you’ll find me. Only me. There was no long line to grab the domain name Danablankenhorn.com.
As a child my name upset me but now I’m awful proud of it.
And I remember the Korzeneskis. They gave me a precious gift, a unique brand in the Internet Age which I have finally chosen to embrace, accept, and stand by proudly.
That’s all a brand can be. It’s a chance. On the Internet it is what you make of it. In life it’s what you are. Take pride in it. Treat it as your own name. There is no more precious asset in the Internet Age than a good name you can call your own.