Last Name First, First Name Last…

25 May
The question arrived in a series of message board birthday wishes: “Where does the name come from? You’re the only Rowell I know of…”

As usual, my reply turned into a long-winded tale…so naturally it was destined to find a duplicate home here as an entry on the Clogged Blog.

It was my father’s idea to name me Rowell. That was the family name (last name) of his best friend in the army during World War Two, a fellow named Walter Rowell. I guess Dad thought he was doing us both an honor. We visited the family during a vacation to Boston when I was a teenager and it was a little weird meeting his three daughters…each of whom had my first name as their last name. I’m sure they felt just as much disorientation, if not more.

It’s pronounced with a long “o”, but I’ve spent a lifetime learning to tolerate imitation dog growls (“raowllll”), or people who have determined it must be a misprint (“Roland”). My wife’s grandmother always called me “Rolls”, various funny friends routinely call out “ra-oool” (like the spanish “Raul”), and even on the Muppet set Kevin Clash insisted on referring to me as if i were French (Ro-WELL). And of course, it was ready-made for schoolyard taunts. I honestly think i’ve heard them all.

When I’m introduced to someone I usually rate a “what?” more often than a “who?” Sometimes I try to make it easy on the person by saying, “rowell…as in ‘tootsie’.” Sometimes they get it. But I usually just correct people once, then politely let it go and tell them I’ll answer to “hey you!”

I even had one person ask me if it was an air-name I had made up. My answer was that if I’d wanted an air-name/stage-name, I would certainly have come up with something easier to get. And between the real spelling of my last name, “Gormon”, and the natural assumption of the spelling, “Gorman”, you can see why I didn’t just slap a “dot-com” on it for my website!

Even some friends of long-standing still don’t spell it right.

Resisting the urge to correct sometimes comes in handy. I still remember my first mention in a theatrical review (a less than glowing one) where I was mentioned as “Russell Gordon”. I decided to leave well enough alone on that one.

So…there it is. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that once people do get it, they seem to remember it. It’s just one more “different” thing about me. And as most of us in the performing world know, sometimes being “different” is a good thing.

— over and out —



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