Saturday, September 26, 2009

Preserved Funny Names

America does not have the most hilarious English names. This must surely fall to the British Puritans with their virtue- and slogan-naming craze. We Yankees had some good ones, but not the breadth and richness. Humiliation? Fly Fornication? Kill-Sin Pimple?

But the US takes pride in one of most perfectly absurd Quaker monikers. The Fish family was wealthy and powerful, with Hamilton Fish becoming US Secretary of State, and many notable relatives including several congressmen named "Fish" and descendants including the two Presidents Bush.

The gold-standard of funny names in this clan is Preserved Fish. "Preserved" was a shortened slogan, meaning "Preserved in Grace" or "Preserved from Sin." (Purportedly it's pronounced in three syllables, but this is a sin against humor.)

This is mainly an excuse to put up a picture (click to enlarge) I took some years ago of a plaque at the cemetery (the second nonsectarian one in Manhattan) where he's buried.

The NY Public Library has an image of him looking perfectly spiffy. I'm sure the artist was asked by a friend "What are you doing today?" and he replied "I'm rendering Preserved Fish." "I bet that smells great!"
[Preserved Fish.] Digital ID: 421566. New York Public Library

Astoundingly, there were at least two other men in the family named Preserved Fish:
President Preserved Fish (1766-1846) of Bank of America was born in Portsmouth, R. I., son of Blacksmith Preserved Fish, whose father was another Preserved Fish, whose father's name was Thomas.

As an aside, someday I'll have to read Fischer's Albion's Seed all the way. When I've dipped in it's spectacular.

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