Now, That’s a Name!

Now, That’s a Name!

By Patrick F. Cannon

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Now, that’s a name to reckon with. No mere mortal could have had such a name, nor was Izzy (as the family must have called him) anything like the average plodding drudge of his time. Born in England in 1806, his father Mark was a French engineer who had skipped out of France to escape the fate of the many Frenchmen who had not been considered quite enlightened enough after the Revolution.

Educated in England and France (after things had settled down a bit) he joined his father’s engineering firm, which was then engaged in designing the infrastructure that would create the modern world. Together, they designed a tunnel under the Thames, which was completed in 1843 and was instantly considered a wonder of the world. It is still being used.  He then went on to design the right of way (including bridges, viaducts and tunnels) for the Great Western Railway, which connected London with Bristol.

He also transformed steamship design. In 1837, his “Great Western” was the first to carry passengers across the Atlantic. The “Great Britain” of 1843 was the first iron ship to have screw propellers. Finally, the “Great Eastern” was launched in 1859, the year he died. It was nearly 700 feet long and displaced some 22,000 tons. It had its problems and was not a commercial success, but it did lay the first successful Transatlantic Cable in 1866. It was to be nearly 40 years before another ship as large was built.

His first name came from the Germanic “Isanbert,” which made its way to Anglo-Saxon England. It eventually fell out of use, so one wonders how Brunel’s father came upon it. While we may never know, he might well have chosen the name to set him forever apart from the run of the mill engineer, perhaps thinking that Isambard Kingdom Brunel would be hired before someone named Bertie Brunel. (In case you’re wondering, “Kingdom” was his mother’s maiden name.)

Closer to home and our times was Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Older baseball fans may know who he was, but younger fans may think the “Mountain” should be in quotes, thinking perhaps he was a hard-hitting hillbilly slugger. Actually, he was the Federal Judge appointed Commissioner of Baseball in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Born in 1866, he was a Chicago lawyer before being appointed to the bench by Teddy Roosevelt. While a judge, he was best known for fining Standard Oil nearly $30 million for a railroad kickback scheme, and for his harsh sentences for draft dodgers during World War I.

While a little before my time (he died in 1944 when I was too young to hate the Yankees), period photos show a scrawny little man with a mop of white hair. He always appears a bit on the stern side, which was apparently the point in hiring him. As to the name, his father named him Kenesaw Mountain because he (the father that is) was wounded in the Civil War battle of Kennesaw Mountain (two Ns is the correct spelling of the mountain in Georgia). Fortunately, the little tyke was generally called Kenny. One shudders to think what his name might have been had his father been wounded at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek.

Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon

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