What The Family Name Means To Me

February 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm , by 

2 years, 2 months.

Dear Jack,

I don’t know whether it’s from the Vacation movies with the Griswolds, or maybe just a combination of every 80′s sitcom I grew up watching, but in my mind it’s the dad’s job to emphasize what it means to be a [enter last name here].

To illustrate, I’ll just use Growing Pains as an example here. I can easily imagine Jason Seaver telling Ben, “We Seavers are not quitters!”

Every once in a while you like to play with the seashells we collected from our trip to Naples, FL in December 2011.

You pour them out of the plastic cup we keep them in, then examine them one by one on the carpet.

I always think, “Jack, do you realize you are playing with our last name right now?”

Knowing it would just confuse you at this point to try to explain to you that our last name is Shell and what a last name even is, I just let you enjoy your playtime.

But I have been pondering what it means to be a Shell.

Unless you ever have a baby brother, you are basically the last male Shell in our family to carry on the name, since I was the only one until you got here.

Essentially, I figure so much of what it means to be a Shell has to do with the household culture that Mommy and I are raising you in.

I would definitely say in order to be Shell, you have to be a bit on the quirky side; never apologizing for being different, never being tempted to follow the crowd.

Work ethic is huge to our identity. We like to be known for working hard, being proactive, and thinking creatively.

When it comes to politics, we are conservative, yet open-minded and open-armed to different cultures.

In regards to financial decisions, we are as shrewd as my Italian grandfather who grew up in an orphanage during the 1930′s. (The day we pay for a smart phone or cable TV is the day they give it to us for free!)

We are equally as disciplined when it comes to nutrition, being sticklers for reading ingredients while being liberal on calories.

Shells are deep thinkers, always curious of where stuff comes from and how it got here.

To us, God is not simply the third word of OMG, but the one we try to please everyday in the way we treat others.

You are a Shell. You’re one of us. You are destined to encompass the best and worst of our family’s micro-culture.

However, in regards to the importance that individuality plays in our family, I recognize that despite the way that Mommy and I will inevitably “brainwash” you in our weird ways as we raise you, still you have free will to make your own decisions and form your own opinions; especially the older you get.

So while you are one of us no matter what, you’re still you. And I like the micro-culture you bring to our family. After all, I write a letter to you about it everyday.

 

Love,

Daddy

 

Advertisements

What Do You Visualize When You Think of a Person’s Last Name?

Surely something comes to mind, no matter who the person is.

Throughout my whole life, I have always visualized a noun or idea whenever I hear anyone’s last name.  Maybe it’s just me that does that.  But I felt that the habit was worth expanding on.  So I asked my facebook friends what they thought of when they hear my last name, which is Shell- the German adjective for “loud and noisy”, originally spelled “Schel”.  Their responses can be found at the very end of this post.

Then to demonstrate my thought process, I returned the favor:

Johnson- Johnsonville Brats

Rogers- a 1950’s milkman

York- the state, not the city

Clements- the Clampetts from the Beverly Hillbillies

Majer- the sitcom Major Dad

Kregenow- a city I made up in Michigan, that is only said best with a Midwestern accent

Hegar- Sammy Hagar

Alexander- Alexander the Great

McElhaney- Scottish people and GI Joe’s

Hardin- German people who love friend pickles

Welch- Welch’s grape juice

Creel- the Tori character from the final season of the original Saved by the Bell, played by actress Leanna Creel

Jenkins- Fat Albert and the Junkyard Band

Chapman- Steven Curtis Chapman, the Christian singer

Britt- a member of a British glam-rock band from the Eighties

Wilder- Gene Wilder, the Jewish actor who played the original Willy Wonka

Gordon- the singer Gordon Lightfoot

Part of my writing style is that I almost always try to bring the topic to a close by ending with some sort of ironic twist.  So here it is:

How did we get last names in the first place?  There are basically three major ways.  First, the name could be referring to the town of where one of our ancestors lived: A common trait of Scottish last names is that they end in “ton”, which means town.  So “Pinkerton” means “from the town of Pinker”.  Second, the name could be recognizing an ancestral father or father figure: A common trait of English last names is that they end in “son”, which implies “son of”.  So “Davidson” means “David’s son”.  Similarly, Irish last names often begin “O’”, which also implies “son of”.  So “O’ Conner” means “son of Conner.”

Thirdly, and most interestingly, the last name is referring to an adjective or physical trait that an ancestor was known for.  Like the last names Short, Brown, Swift, Freeman, and Blessing.  Notice how many Jewish last names refer to monetary wealth: Goldberg, Silverman, Richman, Diamond, and Sachs (as in “sacks” of money- though the actual reference is to a city in Germany, it’s still an interesting coincidence).  With that being said, my habit of visualizing people’s last names is not a new thing at all.  People have been doing this since… well, since people have had last names.

Nick Shell New assignment for you, friends: “What do you visualize when you think of my last name?” (If you answer me, I will answer you regarding your last name, on your wall; as well as tag you in the post when I publish it.)

December 1 at 11:44pm ·  ·  

    • Brad Johnson I think of you and the gas station that my grandfather used to own.

      December 1 at 11:47pm · 
    • Debra Johnson A sea shell

      December 1 at 11:57pm via Facebook Mobile · 
    • Ashley Rogers Seashell…that always comes to my mind when someone has the last name Shell….and then I drift off thinking about how i”d love to be at the beach…. lol

      December 1 at 11:58pm · 
    • Crystal York Allen I think of the beach and the ocean. It is quiet calming.

      December 2 at 12:20am · 
    • Bobby Clements Sea shell (the smooth pretty kind) – then thoughts drift to the beach – then the waves – then the ocean – then to wonder why James Cameron is making a sequel to Avatar involving the ocean – then to why is James Cameron making a sequel at all.

      December 2 at 12:30am via Facebook Mobile ·  ·  1 person
    • Jessica Mager Toney i think of a sea shell…more specifically a conch shell.

      December 2 at 2:53am · 
    • Sarah Kregenow Issac Running out of gas and the color yellow.

      December 2 at 3:47am · 
    • Rebecca Hegar velveeta shells and cheese

      December 2 at 3:49am · 
    • Amanda Smith Alexander Not Shell gas station- they were too involved in the Holocaust. You’re a Jewish sea shell from the Sea of Galilee. Creative? 🙂

      December 2 at 5:47am via Facebook Mobile · 
    • Russell McElhaney The white sandy beach

      December 2 at 6:43am · 
    • Christy Perkins Hardin OK, so I’m different… I see that we are all start as just an empty shell, and the experiences of life fill us and mold us into the kind of person we become… ever-changing, as we add new experiences into our being. That shell may be filled with mostly good or mostly bad, and the choice is ours. Clearly, that shell is a God-shaped void…imagine what we would be if we actually filled that void with Him!

      December 2 at 6:44am · 
    • Jason Welch The “shell game” where there are three shells with a ball under one. You know, move them around and guess which has the ball.

      December 2 at 7:26am · 
    • Hjordis Maddock Creel Sea shells, any and all of them. I grew up in Florida and I love shells. I’ve got a collection of shells and I am always pondering what to do with them.

      December 2 at 7:54am · 
    • Will Jenkins a 70’s drawing of a little green turtle

      December 2 at 9:56am · 
    • Rita Gail Chapman I see seashells at the seashore…..three times, real fast!

      December 2 at 10:39am · 
    • Sherry Britt Shell I SEE A LONG WALK ON THE BEACH HUNTING SEASHELL

      December 2 at 3:27pm · 
    • Ben Wilder I think of you singing on stage. That’s the image of you I have in my head when your name comes up. And you laughing and shrugging your shoulders.

      Friday at 10:40am · 
The TMNT theme song. if you want the song, download it here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=DYBVTBGD

December 2 at 1:20am ·  ·  · Share · See Friendship
    • Melinda Gordon in response to the question about your last name 🙂

      Friday at 4:30am · 


dad from day one: Passing on the Family Name

Thirty-six weeks.

It wasn’t until this weekend while visiting my parents in Alabama that I fully realized something: When Baby Jack is born, he will be the only male Shell (beyond me) to pass on the name, unless I eventually have another son.  My mom was telling me how we will need to get a “generational picture” taken, including my grandfather (John Shell), my dad (Jack Shell), myself (Nick Shell), and Baby Jack.  My dad only has one brother (Johnny Shell) and he only had daughters.  And I have no brothers.  So Baby Jack will carry on the Shell name, which translates in German as “loud and noisy”.

While the namesake is just that, a name, it still carries on an idea of the people with that name.  Not only their bloodline and physical characteristics, but also a reputation of that name.  When I think of what the Shell name stands for, I think of my grandfather (who I call “Paw Paw Shell”), my Uncle Johnny, and of course, my dad, because they are the three male Shell’s most closely related to me.  They all work very hard, will do anything for the family, will not tolerate any b.s. or drama, are extremely down to Earth, have a passion for classic cars, prefer The History Channel over watching sports on TV, and will always choose the great outdoors over the city life because they all live in the wooded mountains (which is different than living out in the country, by the way).

Physically, male Shell’s are between 5’ 7” and 5’ 11” (no shorter, no taller), have dark brown or black hair, have a thin frame, have a fairly prominent nose (not noticeably huge, but never smaller than average), are known to show up at each other’s houses unannounced, and have a weak spot for Moon Pies.  For me, there is just something about being “a Shell” that is distinguished.  Not in a classy way like the Vanderbilt name, or Presidential like the Kennedy name, but it’s the idea that when you meet someone with the Shell name, you’ll never forget them.  Shell’s stand out from the crowd.  Not in a “loud and noisy” aspect like the name actually implies, but set apart in a sense that if you know one of us, you know all of us.  And really, that’s how I imagine most families are.

It’s in a man’s heart to want to pass on the family name.  Not just for the sake of legacy, but also because of pride.  And while pride is typically a bad thing, when it comes to family, pride is a necessary staple.  I am proud to be a Shell, and proud to bring another one into this world.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com


Climbing the Family Tree

At some point, it starts to become irrelevant.  Which part of your family tree actually matters?

Fort Payne, AL in 1976- my mom (bottom), her Italian dad and Mexican mother above her

Every family’s got one- the “family tree enthusiast”.  It’s ultimately the person with the most natural motivation to find out where the family came from- not the people who simply say, “I’d love to know more about our heritage…” but instead, the one who actually gets to work on it.  And after I found myself spending hours sometimes researching the origins of last names I had heard of in our family, I soon realized I was appointed by destiny to be the “family tree enthusiast.”

Since last May, my grandmother on my dad’s side has been helping me with the research.  Her last name is Clowers; which last year when I looked it up was an English name and meant “people from the hills”.  But this weekend after sitting down with my grandmother again, I discovered that “Clowers” was changed from “Klauer”, and that was changed from “Clore”, which was changed from “Klaar”, which was not English at all, but instead Dutch.

Chattanooga, TN in 1946- my great-grandparents on my dad's side: Francis Clowers & Madelee Wiseman

The highest I could climb up my family tree was to a Dutch Lutheran named Hans Michael Klaar (born in 1630) who married a Greek woman named Ursula Sybella (born in 1635).  When I Googled the last name “Klaar”, I found more Jewish ties to it than anything else.  It’s possible that further up the family tree the Klaar’s were Dutch Jews, but that would be near impossible to confirm.

Climbing back down the family tree, the next woman being married into the family was another Greek woman, Anna Barbara Maria.  Then Dorothy Kaifer (German), then two more presumed German women (no last names given but I’m assuming they were German since the family had by that point moved to Germany), then surprisingly a Jewish woman named Nancy Ullman (it translates as “rich man”), then Mary Harris (English), then Emmaline Lunsford (English), then Polly Katherine Green (English, Jewish, or Irish), then finally, my great-grandmother Madelee Wiseman (typically a Jewish-German last name which translates “white man”).

same great-grandparents 37 years later

Then my grandmother (maiden name, Clowers) married my grandfather, John David Shell.  All I know so far about his family tree are of Scottish (Scrimsher and Johnston), Cherokee Indian (name unknown), and German (Miller) origin.  But the last name Shell has a potentially interesting origin:  The Jews living in Germany were often given their last names by the Germans, who would insult them with last names translating to things like “stinky” and “ugly”.  Shell used to be “Schell” and literally translates “loud, noisy, and clamorous”- which I would say is an insult.  Plus, by Googling “Schell”, it’s Jewish people that pop up.

So what am I on my dad’s side of the family?  Dutch-Greek-German-Jewish-Cherokee-Scottish-English.  But I’m starting to come to the conclusion; what does really it matter anyway?  At the top of both sides of my dad’s family tree are Dutch, Greek, and German.  In the middle are Jewish and Cherokee.  At the bottom of the trees are English and Scottish.

The Clowers-Wiseman family in 1953- my great-grandparents in the middle, my grandmother on the far right in the black dress

Which is more relevant?  Am I more English and Scottish because those are the most recent?  Am I less Dutch and Greek because those are at the top?  Am I equally all of those things?

And that’s not to mention my mom’s side- she’s half Mexican and half Italian.  But because of the rumors that my great-grandmother Mary Vite was Jewish (there are Jews with the last name Vite), I may not be ¼ Italian after all, but instead 1/8.  Or what if she wasn’t half Jewish, but instead half Greek?

I will always be fascinated by ethnic backgrounds of people, but in a way, I am satisfied with what I know now about my own mysterious ancestors.  Because what is most relevant in a family tree is not found by looking up, but instead by looking down and all around; it’s the people that still influence you, that love you, that care for you, and vice versa.  That’s the part of your family tree that matters.  And to be honest with you, I’m pretty dizzy after spending all that time so high up the family tree.  It’s good to be back on the ground, with family members who are just as alive as I am.

Under the family tree: my Italian (and possibly Greek or Jewish?) grandfather Metallo; my mom's dad

Mario Eugene Shell (The Person I Almost Was): If I’m Both Hispanic and White, Which Box Do I Check in Those Surveys?

If only I looked more ethnic.


It’s hard to fathom now, but the entire time my mom knew she was pregnant with me (from October 1980 to April 1981) her “boy name” for me was Mario Eugene Shell.  But of course, my name is instead Nicholas Shane Shell.  Why?  I “didn’t look like a Mario”.  In other words, I was too white.

In essence, I am a mixed race- technically only half white.  One of the main ways I determine whether or not a person is “white” (other than their skin color) is by looking at their last name- if it ends in a vowel, they are probably not white.  My mom’s maiden name was Metallo (Italian) and her mother’s maiden name was Mendez (it doesn’t end in a vowel but it’s common knowledge that Mexicans are not “white”- especially not the ones in my family- they have darker skin).

My dad (a Southern boy of English, German, Cherokee Indian, and distant Greek traces) had married this exotic black haired woman from the North (Buffalo, NY).  It was assumed that their child would take after the more ethnic features, like mocha skin and black curly hair.  But on April 20, 1981 at 8:37 PM, both my parents were amazed to hold a seemingly All-American baby.

They looked at each other, then my mom said to my dad, “He’s not a Mario.  We need a new name.”  A few hours later, before midnight, still on the day I was born, I was named Nicholas (a Greek name that is a popular Italian male name).  My middle name is Shane, which is a form of Sean, which is a form of the Hebrew (Jewish) name, John.  (Shane was considered for my first name but “Shane Shell” really doesn’t work.)

And that’s how I got my name- a quickly formed “plan B”.  To imagine, if I looked more Mexican (like my sister, though she’s often mistaken for Hawaiian) or even a dark-skinned Italian, I would have been Mario Eugene.  (My dad’s middle name is Eugene.)  That’s means that growing up, everyone at school would have called me Super Mario and constantly made references to video game series.  But I don’t think it would have been all that different from my actual childhood, where everyone sang “Nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick, Nickelodeon!” to me.  And some people still do… Aunt Rosa!

dad from day one: The Gender of the Baby

“Sadie, Chloe, Sammy, or Max, chillin’ in a baby sack.  Tristan, Evan, Lily, Zoey, or Jack…” -Candy Butchers, “Let’s Have a Baby”

Nineteen weeks.

After my grandmother’s dream and my wife’s co-worker’s psychic’s prediction of it being a girl, it was pretty obvious to us what the gender of our baby would be.  I drove down to the appointment yesterday full of excitement, knowing that I could finally tell everyone that our intuition was correct once I would get the official confirmation.

Several anxious moments passed as the nurse showed us pictures our  our baby, then finally she asked us, “Do you want to know what it is?”

Laughing, full of confidence, we told her that we were quite sure already, but yes, tell us for sure.

“You’re having a boy.”

I wish I had a YouTube clip of our reaction.  “WHAT?!  NO WAY!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”  Etc., etc.  All exclaimed while hysterically laughing.

Not that it mattered either way to us.  I just don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised in my life.  I wish there was a way to type in a “laughing font” to better show my tone here.  I’m so happy!  We’re having a boy!

This is an "under the scrotum" shot.

Of course now it’s time to answer the other question: What are you naming him?

First name: Jack

Middle name: William

Last name: Shell

Here’s how we came up with the name:

He will go by “Jack”, which is my dad’s name.

Which is an alternate version of John, which is Hebrew (Jewish) for “God’s grace”.  Which just sounds like a cool name.  It’s simple, not too popular, and easy to spell and say.  And Jack also happens to be the name of the lead character of the best show ever made, LOST (played by Matthew Fox, who is also part Italian.)

Jack is the size of a mango.

Plus, my wife’s name is Jill… so it’ll be “Jack and Jill”.

His middle name, William, (my wife’s dad’s name) is German and loosely translates as “protector”.

His last name, Shell, (originally spelled “Schel” at some point in American history) is German and loosely translates to “loud and noisy”.

That being said, Jack William Shell is a Jewish-German-German name which fully translates as “God’s gracious gift of loud and noisy protection.”  I’m already picturing a little boy wearing a pot on top of his head, running around the house, banging a pan with a wooden spoon, being “loud and noisy”.

Most importantly, Baby Jack is healthy, thank God!

Jack, the boy.  Who knew?

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

The Way a Name Sounds Compared to How a Name is Spelled

My name is… My name is…

Some people have long, complicated names. Like Ben Roethlisberger. Or M Night Shyamalan. I’ll even throw Weird Al Yankovic in that category. But just because a name is short, that doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. My name, in theory, is very simple. Especially when it’s written down.

But when it’s simply spoken, especially over the phone, to someone who has never heard my name before, they usually don’t get it right on the first try. Some popular variations include, but are not limited to the following, in all possible combinations:

Mick Shale
Mike Snell
Rick Schell
Nicky Shaw
Nic Snow
Mickey Show
Nate Shelton
Ned Shells

Because when all a person has to go on is what they simply hear, they are working with a muddled form that sounds literally like this: “Nicgtkahshelahw”.

I remember how fascinated I was when someone pointed out to me about ten years ago that often, when we say a word, we don’t correctly pronounce it, because we can get by without doing it clearly. When we say “cat”, we pronounce it “caaa”. We leave off the “t”. I had to practice a few times at first. Then I realized it’s true.

But if we are sure to emphasize the “t”, the word “cat” literally sounds more like this: “cattuh”. We tend not to hear the extra syllables we add on to the end of words. And we make a habit of leaving off the strong consonant sounds on the ends also, as previously mentioned.

I wonder, too, what mental image my last name gives people. Personally, I’ve always envisioned a turtle shell, hence the picture of a turtle at the top of this site. But people usually tell me they think of “a seashell at the ocean”. When in truth, “schel” is simply the German word for “loud and noisy”, which over time evolved into “Shell”. It would be nice to imagine my ancestors were a bunch of cool hippies hanging out at the beach. But in reality, not so much.

Secretly, some sort of picture pops up in my head for everyone I know- as soon as I hear their last name. I’m taking requests, actually. For those who send me a request on facebook I will reveal my mental image for their name.

I expect no one to actually do that, though. That would be like getting sucked into the TV screen.  It’s what we in the theatre world call “breaking the 4th wall”.

hello-my-name-is