Being named after something isn’t always a good thing


By David Lindeman

Contributing columnist

You’d better careful if you plan on inventing something — they might name it for you.

I was thinking about this the other day after I ran across the reason they call flying around at supersonic speeds “Mach” — you know, like breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1 or flying around with Sulu and Kirk in the Enterprise at Mach 7.

It turns out that familiar word used to describe speed is named after Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicist who was a pioneer in the subject.

This turned out pretty well for Mr. Mach, but sometimes having something named after you isn’t such a great thing.

Take Alzheimer’s Disease, for instance. It is named for Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor who first identified the disease. So now his name is forever linked with a dreaded disease, although to be fair most of us have forgotten Alois ever existed, so maybe it’s not so bad.

This is a regular problem in the field of medicine. They’re always naming diseases after themselves. Burill Bernard Crohn and two fellow researchers first identified what is now Crohn’s Disease in 1932. Crohn wrote the first paper on the disease, so his name was attached to it. It seems like a dubious honor.

James Parkinson wrote a paper on Shaking Palsy back in 1817. Apparently Shaking Palsy wasn’t a good enough name, so today we know it as Parkinson’s Disease.

Then there’s Tourette’s syndrome, named for Georges Giles de la Tourette. I guess we should be glad they didn’t use his entire name.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out all bad. Listeriosis is named for Joseph Lister, known as the father of modern antiseptic surgery. Most of us don’t know about that disease, but we remember Lister for something else named for him – Listerine.

Every time someone is saved by the Heimlich Maneuver, we can thank Henry Heimlich, who invented it. In recent years, there has been a move to change the name of this life-saving maneuver to the more antiseptic (hey, there’s Joe Lister again) “abdominal thrust,” which sounds like some kind of weight loss exercise or martial arts move. We should stick with good old Dr. Heimlich.

Some people are trying to help out but their names end up being associated with something really awful. Take the man who, although personally opposed to the death penalty, supported a more humane method of execution. His name: Joseph Ignace Guillotin.

On the other hand, some men obtain near immortality by accident. Consider the card-playing English aristocrat who didn’t want to interrupt his game to eat. He would have his valet bring him a piece of beef in between two pieces of bread. He was the Earl of Sandwich.

Then there are some happy associations: if you are a skater or a hockey player and frequent Hobart Arena, you probably are thankful for Frank Zamboni, because he invented the machine that makes your ice so smooth.

Like to soak in the hot tub? Thank Candido Jacuzzi and his brothers for inventing the pump that made it possible.

Like to listen to a little John Coltrane? Or even Kenny G? It’s possible because of Adolph Sax, who invented the saxophone in the 1840s.

The world is full of things named for people. The Stanley Steamer was named for Francis Stanley, one of the brothers who invented it. He died in a car accident. The Duesenberg was named for inventor Fred Duesenberg. He also died in a car accident. Maybe you should be glad you don’t have a car named for you.

If you live in England, you don’t use a vacuum cleaner to sweep the floor. You use a Hoover to do your hoovering. His name was William Henry Hoover.

I’m thinking I’d like to have something named for me, but I’m a bit hesitant. What if someone came up with something like the Bob Marley Parasite? It’s a real thing. George Bush, Kate Winslet, Adolph Hitler all have had beetles named for them. Hugh Hefner had a marsh rabbit named for him, which seems appropriate when you consider his association with bunnies.

There is a Lindeman Island off the coast of Australia and a Lindeman Lake in Canada, but those were named for some other Lindeman. I’m thinking more on the lines of a galaxy or a comet, but to tell you the truth I’d settle for less. I’m not much of an inventor so someone out there is going to have to help out on this.

Just don’t name a car or a beetle or a deadly disease after me. Sometimes it’s better to remain anonymous.

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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