Names in the comics

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:


Ouch: Creighton Barrel / Crate & Barrel.

There’s quite a path in the history of Creighton as a first name. This will take us to probably the most famous person with first name Creighton, US Army General Creighton W. Abrams — and his son Creighton W. Abrams, a classmate of mine at Princeton.

The emporium. And how it got its name. From Wikipedia:


Euromarket Designs, Inc. dba Crate & Barrel is a 170+ store American chain of retail stores, based in Northbrook, Illinois, specializing in housewares, furniture (indoor and out), and home accessories. Its corporate name is Euromarket Designs, Inc. The company is [now] wholly owned by Otto GmbH.

… Gordon and Carole Segal opened the first Crate & Barrel store on December 7, 1962, at age 23. The 1,700-square-foot (160 m2) space in part of an old elevator factory was located at 1516 North Wells Street in the then-bohemian Old Town neighborhood of Chicago

… The Segals derived the company name by the materials that they originally used to display items in their Chicago store. The Segals were originally going to call their company “Barrel and Crate”, but a friend suggested that they reverse the order of the words. They turned over the crates and barrels that the merchandise came in, let the wood excelsior spew out, and stacked up the china and glass. This helped emphasize their strongest selling point, that their products were direct imports.

The surname Barrel(l). From the Internet Surname Database:

Barrell: This unusual surname is of French origin, and is primarily a metonymic occupational name for a cooper, a maker of barrels or casks. The derivation is from the Old French “baril”, barrel, cask, but this word may also have been used as a nickname to describe one of rotund appearance, “the ydell and barrell bealies of monkes” (1561, New English Dictionary). A sizeable group of early European surnames were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames; these nicknames were originally given with reference to a variety of personal characteristics, such as physical attributes or peculiarities, and to habits of dress and occupation.

So Lynette’s surname (possibly her married name) in the OBH cartoon is attested, but not very common. Still, it might have struck you in the first panel of the cartoon that the name might be a se-up for a joke.

The name Creighton. It starts as a placename, later used as a surname for people from that place. And then bearers of the surname lend their names to placenames (towns and cities). From Wikipedia:

Creighton is a [family] name, derived from Crichton, Midlothian [in Scotland]. It is also a placename, probably usually derived from bearers of the surname. [This spelling is one of a number of variants (compare the name of the writer Michael Crichton).]

The article cites the town names Creighton FL, MO, NE, PA, SD; SK, ON; and KwaZulu-Natal.

Another step is the use of a surname as a personal name, usually first for men (though such names often spread to women) — typically, to honor a surname somewhere in the bearer’s family, quite often in a female line.

In the case of Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., the personal name looks back to the family’s Scottish antecedents.

The name Abraham. This is straightforwardly a Biblical name, the name of the patroarch Abraham. It’s used as a personal name by Jews and also by Christians honoring their Old Testament religious traditions (note Abraham Lincoln). From that we get surnames Abraham (actor F. Murray Abraham), Abrahams (folklorist Roger D. Abrahams), Abrams (diplomat Elliott Abrams), Abrahamson (Irish film director Lenny Abrahamson), Abramson (linguist and phonetician Arthur S. Abramson), etc., some Jewish, some Christian.

Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, Jr. was apparently raised in a Methodist family and converted to Catholicism during the Vietnam War, but was often taken to be Jewish (an attribution he sometimes declined to dispute). From a New York Sun editorial of 8/28/04, with a naming bonus as the end of this excerpt:

One of our favorite stories about America and the Jews concerns Meyer Levin’s famous encounter with Creighton Abrams. It took place during World War II, when Levin was a young correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency assigned to scout around the European theater to write profiles of Jewish war heroes. He found a general who was Jewish and approached his aides, saying, “Hi, I’m Meyer Levin of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. I want to write a profile of the general, stressing the Jewish angle.” Back came word that the general wanted no such profile; he had enough problems.

So Levin kept searching until he heard about a dashing young tank commander called Creighton Abrams. He finally caught up with the future chief of staff in the field. The correspondent climbed aboard the officer’s tank and the colonel himself emerged. “Sir,” the writer said, “I’m Meyer Levin of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. I want to write a profile of you – stressing the Jewish angle.” Abrams looked at him a bit quizzically but without pausing a second said, “Well, hop in.”

We thought of the great Creighton Abrams, who was of Scottish background and not Jewish, as we read the latest from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, bewailing the fact that many Iraqis have taken to calling American GIs “Jews.” Mr. Friedman attributes this to Scott Pelley of CBS, who had been asking around Iraq to see what Iraqis were calling the Americans the way Americans called the Germans “Krauts” and the Viet Cong “Charlie.”

We have now come all the way to the general, whose service spanned from World War II to Vietnam. From Wikipedia:


Creighton Williams Abrams, Jr. (September 15, 1914 – September 4, 1974) was a United States Army general who commanded military operations in the Vietnam War from 1968–72 (which saw U.S. troop strength in South Vietnam fall from a peak of 543,000 to 49,000). He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly before his death in 1974.

He had three sons, all of them Army officers: Gen. Robert B. Abrams, Gen. John N. Abrams, and Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams III. (At some point, the general seems to have abandoned his Jr. suffix — as I have done with mine — and his son Creighton converted his III to Jr.)

The general was excoriated on one side for having pursued the war in Vietnam and on another for having lost the war. Within the military, he was revered. From a 5/30/13 piece on the Foreign Policy Research Insttute site by Lewis Sorley, “The Way of the Soldier: Remembering General Creighton Abrams”:

Creighton Abrams was something quite rare in the military profession, a man of tactical and strategic brilliance, personal bravery and integrity of the highest order, and inspiring leadership who was also compassionate, modest and wise.

… Abrams came from a modest background, his father a railroad mechanic and his mother the daughter of an estate caretaker

On to his son Creighton. His freshman photo at Princeton:


From the Princeton Alumni Weekly on 5/16/12, a piece “Alumni Profile: Creighton W. Abrams Jr. ’62, head of the Army Historical Foundation” by Van Wallach:

Résumé: Executive director of the Army Historical Foundation since 2000. Retired Army brigadier general. Served 31 years, including deployments to Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Southwest Asia, and Italy. Site manager for General Dynamics in Saudi Arabia. English major at Princeton.

Preserving Military History. As head of the Army Historical Foundation, Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr. ’62 is charged with building support for the National Museum of the United States Army. Expected to open in 2016 at Fort Belvoir, Va., the museum would fill a major gap in the Army’s historical presence

(A Brigadier General is a one-star general.)

I didn’t really know Creighton at Princeton, but then we were in a class of about 700 men and not in the same eating club.

3 Responses to “Names in the comics”

  1. astraya Says:

    I have two problems with this strip. I pronounce Creighton with a LIKE vowel, and here in Australia I have only ever heard it pronounced that way. The Creighton Barrel > Crate and Barrel pun seems to rely on it being pronounced with a LAKE vowel. What is the standard pronunciation in the USA? CrAYton Barrel > Crate and Barrel is close enough, but CrEYEton Brarel > Crate and Barrel is rather too strained.

    Secondly, I have never seen Crate & Barrel, either in real life (if it operates in Australia I have never seen it) or in extensive internet meandering. Until reading your explanation about the company, I assumed that the joke was that Creighton is simply an inherently sissy name to give a boy.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Creighton Abrams has the LAKE vowel. The US Creightons (first or last name) I have known all have the LAKE vowel. The people I have known or known about with a LIKE-vowel in their surname all spell it Crichton. Obviously things are different in Australia.

    The Crate & Barrel chain is entirely American, operating mostly in upscale shopping areas (like the Stanford Shopping Center, near me). They do business on-line as well as in their stores.

  3. astraya Says:

    That makes the pun more workable, but it still relies on people knowing the company.

    I can’t claim that Creighton *always* has the LIKE vowel and never has the LAKE vowel in Australia, but that’s my experience and understanding until I find out or someone tells me otherwise.

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