What do Cecil B. DeMille, Mortimer Adler, have in common with Brandon Jennings?

What do the following have in common?

To keep the game interesting, please do not post an explicit answer. Instead, give another example.

(And yes, Googling is allowed.)

Stafford Cripps
Courtney Love
Cecil B. DeMille
Sidney Hillman
Bruce Reed
Mortimer Adler
Clifford Alexander
Percy Weasley
Gordon Ramsay
Spencer Tracy
Neville Chamberlain
Howard Stern
Russell Crowe
Darcy Burner
Stuart Eizenstat
Lesley Rosenthal
Dudley Moore
Murray Rothbard
Clinton Rossiter
Brandon Jennings

Update I thought this might be too easy – with “Percy Weasley” as the giveaway – but it seems instead to be too hard.

Someone asked for a hint. The commonality can be stated in a single sentence, and will be obvious once perceived.

First hint: Syntactic, not semantic.

Second hint: Andy Sabl and James Wimberley have an unfair advantage.

Second update Answer below the fold.

“People whose given names are the names of English or Scotch noble families.” Dominic Murphy got it; I restricted my examples to families ennobled before the Revolution of 1688, but that wouldn’t have been obvious. Toby provides four more excellent examples. And yes, “Ashley Montagu” deserves extra credit.

It strikes me as remarkable that so many common English given names originate in aristocratic surnames; I have always found Jewish “Sidneys” and “Mortimers” and “Stuarts” faintly amusing.

Thanks for playing! Hope the game didn’t prove too annoying.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

107 thoughts on “Contest”

  1. Doh! I had been cudgeling my brain for two days over this, and then finally this afternoon I stopped looking at each forename-surname pair, and chanced to scan down the forenames only, and it was so obvious, although I didn’t quite get to the “ennobled before 1688” part. So I was thinking about some other examples, and when I came here the beans had all been spilled and I was denied my moment of very trivial triumph. Curses, foiled again!

  2. “I have always found Jewish “Sidneys” and “Mortimers” and “Stuarts” faintly amusing.”

    Russian Jewish immigrants gave their sons Wasp last names as aspirational given names: Sidney, Irving, Morris, Morton, Seymour, Stanley. The names were so unusual among non-Jews that they came to seem as Jewish as Jacob or Sarah.

    You see the same practice today, not limited to Jews, except that the aspirational names are given to girls: Campbell, Taylor, Tyler, Mackenzie, McKinley, Harper, Payton, Kennedy. And Sydney.

    1. That started in the South, where WASP girls are often given the mother’s family name as a way of acknowledging her contribution to “lineage.”

      I know of more than woman named Parker. The worst example of which I am aware is a woman named Barksdale.

    2. Wow, Bloix, I didn’t know that. I must say, I love the name Mortie. And Seymour, and Sidney too (for men).

      Somewhat weirdly, while I am a huge proponent of having three names, especially for girls — Eleanor Holmes Norton and so on — I have in recent years become quite intolerant of hyphenated last names. I don’t like how they look in print, and I certainly have no intention of ever pronouncing one. (Of course, one doesn’t wish to be rude either. There are many ways to avoid having to say names.) When it comes to speech, you get one last name. One. If it’s long, that’s okay, I will do my best. But, one.

  3. I came up with a slightly different solution: “Two degrees of Elizabeth I”. Especially after I couldn’t find a noble family called “Lesley”, but there was John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, who intervened with Elizabeth on Mary Stuart’s behalf; similarly, the Spencers weren’t ennobled until the 18th century, but there was of course Edmund Spenser.

    In the end, about half of the surnames could be found directly at Elizabeth’s court (her advisors, ladies-in-waiting, courtiers, and enemies), and the rest could be connected through her direct relatives (such as Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, who was betrothed to her mother, Anne Boleyn) or through Mary Stuart.

  4. Well, I wasn’t going to get it. Ever.

    As for the Jewish first names, my impression is that those and others – Howard, Seymour, Morris, etc. – became common Jewish first names precisely because they were seen as aristocratic English names, though I doubt it was as specific as your rule. A slightly self-defeating strategy for assimilation, as it turned out.

  5. Not that it mattered in my case, but isn’t Percy Weasley a red herring, rather than a particularly helpful clue? There are real people named Percy – Percy Sledge comes to mind – after all. So the inclusion of a fictional character suggests that both first and last names matter.

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