Familiar Names

Joel Roberts Poinsett. A lifelong American diplomat, secretary of war under Martin Van Buren. While ambassador to Mexico, he brought the first poinsettia back to the United States.

Patrick Hooligan. A notorious hoodlum who lived in London in the mid-1800s. His name became a generic term for “troublemaker.”

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. An Austrian novelist. His books reflected his sexual disorder, a craving which was later dubbed masochism.

Charles Mason/Jeremiah Dixon. English surveyors. In the 1760s, they were called in to settle a boundary dispute between two prominent colonial families–the Penns of Pennsylvania and the Calverts of Maryland. A hundred years later, the line they laid out became the North/South border.

Arnold Reuben. A New York deli owner in the 1940s and ’50s. He put corned beef, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on a piece of rye bread and named the whole thing after himself–the Reuben sandwich.

Sir Benjamin Hall. the “chief commissioner of works” for the British government in the 1850s, when the tower clock on the Houses of Parliament got its largest bell. Newspapers of the time dubbed it “Big Ben,” after Hall.

Pierre Magnol. A French professor of botany in the 1600s. Gave us the flower name magnolia.

Alessandro Volta A celebrated Italian physicist. His experiments with electricity in the late 1700s led to the invention of the dry-cell battery. The volt was named after him.

Belinda Blurb. A model portrayed on a book jacket by American illustrator Gelett Burgess. She inspired the common term for a publisher’s comments on a book cover.

Samuel A. Maverick. Texas cattle baron in the mid-1800s. Had so many unbranded stray calves that they became known as mavericks. Eventually, the term came to include independent-minded people as well. Also Sarah Palin’s favorite person.

Franz Anton Mesmer. An Austrian physician who popularized outrageous medical theorieis on animal magnetism in Paris in the 1780s. He mesmerized the public.

Guy Fawkes. English political agitator who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605, but was caught and executed. The British began celebrating November 5 as Guy Fawkes Day, burning effigies of “the old Guy.” Since the effigies were dressed in old clothes, the term guy came to mean bum. In America during Colonial times, its meaning was broadened to mean any male.

William Russell Frisbie. American pie maker. Founded the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1871. In the early 1900s, students from Yale–located up the road in New Haven, Connecticut–found they could flip the Frisbie pie tins like flying saucers.

Madam de Pompadour. Mistress of King Louis XV of France in the mid 1700s. Popularized the hairstyle that reappeared, in modified form, on the heads of Elvis and James Dean.



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