Trial Balloon

Ask Dr. Heartlander

Posted at 6:00 AM on March 8, 2010 by Dale Connelly (33 Comments)
Filed under: Ask Dr. Heartlander

Dear Dr. Heartlander,

When I tell a stranger my name they usually do one of two things - laugh out loud or pause for a moment to gather their composure before saying something like "that's a really unusual name. Where'd you get it?"
And then they laugh out loud.

I always reply "I got my name from my parents, same as most people. "

The conversation that follows goes something like this:

Stranger: "Well, you certainly must have an interesting job."

Me: "Depends on what you mean by 'interesting'."

Stranger: "Like, you know, a singer. Or a cowboy or something. Or a singing cowboy. Is that what you do?"

Me: "No, I can't carry a tune and I don't like animals."

Stranger: "Well whatever you do, it must be something special. You can't have an ordinary job with a name like the one you've got."

Me: "I'm a custodian at a bowling alley. "

Stranger: "No, that's not it. You must be an author. A romance writer. Or science fiction. Or science fiction romances!
Can I have your autograph?"

People refuse to believe that I don't have an exotic job or an exciting life. No matter how hard I try to prove to them that I am as ordinary as dirt, they wind up thinking I am "amazing" and "wonderful" because of my name. I feel like I am living a lie! How can I end this nightmare?

Orbison Blackhoof


Dear Orbison Blackhoof,

Your name is your name, and you do not need to suffer through someone else's impression of what it means. Never apologize for being a custodian in a bowling alley. Cleanliness is essential for bowling. Not enough alleys focus on it.

Concerning the expectations of others - nuts to them. Only you can define what it means to be Orbison Blackhoof, so go ahead and keep oiling those lanes and let others think your head is full of breathless beauties with heaving bosoms, or space battles or cowboys running free over the western plains, or drunks singing in a bar if that is what your name conjures for them.

The expectations of strangers are not your concern. It diminishes you to spend even a moment worrying about it. Why should you? After all, you're Orbision Blackhoof !

But that's just one opinion. What do you think Dr. Heartlander?

Comments (33)

G' Morning Heartlanders!

One of the saddest fates imaginable to me is being forced to perform for the benefit of others to convince them that we are worth their attention. Even the simplest goat has the peace of mind of knowing who he or she is and what that goat wants of life.

No such stability and confidence comforts the person whose identity is so skittery that each day wasted in a foolish attempt to impress others. Who gave "others" that kind of power? Why does their opinion matter?

I have a friend who is a moderately famous writer. He once said, "When I'm in the East I wear a cowboy hat, and when I'm back home in the West I wear a beret." Wherever he is, he is doomed to play a role to impress others.He has to make the point that he is special. How limiting. How sad.

The opinions of others are not always wise. I say that as someone whose Oscars picks took a beating last night! ;-)

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | March 8, 2010 6:22 AM

Good Morning All,

Orbison Blackhoof, at least you have a name that most people can pronounce. I have had to suffer with a last name that almost no one could pronounce. My name has caused me some problems, but I haved learned to like it.

An interesting or hard name makes you distinctive. It will draw attention to you which may be a little uncomfortable, but will also give people a way of relating to you or remember you that can be positive.

When I did crop consulting I got the nick name "Bug Man". I was teasted about my nick name, but I was also told that I should be glad to have such an interesting nick name.

Posted by Jim | March 8, 2010 6:32 AM

As the mother of a teenager, this is an issue that comes up way too often. Of course, you can't tell a teenager not to worry about what others think, but it's hard when they care so MUCH. And, as someone who never quite got out of the seventies and who never did quite fit the mold, I am apparently at risk from other opinions as well, at least according to my daughter.

On a completely different note... Steve, finished book over the weekend, but now I want to know where a middle of the city gal can find bluebirds!

Posted by sherrilee | March 8, 2010 6:34 AM

Dear O.B. - you have a beautiful name - i couldn't have thought of a better one myself! be happy and know your name sake, Uncle Roy, didn't worry about such things. Roy made it just fine on his talents and he didn't let "Roy" change how people perceived him. i'm sure you, being secure in your profession as Steve says, shouldn't have to worry about what others expect of you. i'll be interested to hear what Clyde has to say. but i say, do your thang. do it well. people will admire that.
and Steve, there are no "simple" goats. :-)

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | March 8, 2010 6:40 AM


In Minnesota bluebirds seem to do best in suburban situations where the habitat includes pastures and woods. Stillwater is famous for bluebirding.

It is harder in the city because there are so many lethal competitors, primarily starlings and English sparrows. Your chances are better if your home abuts a natural area or park of some sort.

Your best guidance would be from the Minnesota bluebird group. Google to them and talk to people who have had some luck with bluebirds in the cities.

Good luck!

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | March 8, 2010 6:50 AM

Dear Orby,

Your parents must have given you that name to help you grow into a strong adult --like Johnny Cash's did when they named him Sue. The next time someone pokes fun at it, breathe deeply and try to remain calm. Then say something like, "My name is just one of the unique and magnificent layers that make up my being. Placing a disproportionate amount of importance on one's name is a sure sign of a small mind and it would behoove you keep company with others who can model a much higher degree of character than what you posses." Then hand the galoot a free pass to your bowling alley.

Posted by Donna | March 8, 2010 6:51 AM


You captured the Orbison Blackhoof voice perfectly! Just the right tone.
Orbison would definitely use "behoove" whenever possible and also in some places where it doesn't fit, just for the pleasure of saying it.

Posted by Dale Connelly | March 8, 2010 7:10 AM

Perhaps this is cheating...but my honeybees who survived the winter have been out and flying on the warm afternoons for the past week or so...or more.

Nice Honeybee song...thanks.

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | March 8, 2010 7:16 AM

No kidding?? Thanks for letting me know, Dale!

Posted by Donna | March 8, 2010 7:30 AM

Dear Orbi - don't worry, someone will come along and give you a nickname - one that fits your personality rather than the expectations of your parents. It happens all the time, especially with Blues musicians. Take for example Pine Top Perkins, Muddy Waters, Fats, Howlin' Wolf and others. This was brought out on Saturday night at Pat Donahue's Review at the Fitzgerald Theater - a wonderful show filled with talented performers who have rather routine names - Kathy, Howard,Peter, Butch, Gary - compared to those marvelous musicians whose work was honored and emulated that night. There was even a guy named Dale who appeared at the start of the show.

So take heart Orbi
You need not despair
There's a nickname name waitin'
For you out there.

PS - Dale, can you give us the dates/times when we can hear Pat Donahue's Review on Radio Heartland? Thanks!

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | March 8, 2010 7:31 AM

Speaking as a person who has had to put up with a certain amount of ribbing for her last name ("sounds like a blue movie star," "is ignorance really..." as well as a some less than polite words that rhyme with it), your name is just that, your name. Not a destiny.

Beat 'em to the punch, if need be (before I spell my name, especially over the phone, I start with "as in, 'ignorance is...'"), Or make up a fanciful tale about a relative with the name that is so long and dull that people learn not to ask again.

Posted by Anna | March 8, 2010 7:50 AM


Thanks for mentioning the Pat Donohue concert last Saturday at the Fitz. It was a fantastic show with a fabulous line-up.
We haven't scheduled a broadcast yet. When do YOU think it makes sense to present a concert on Radio Heartland? We've been putting concerts on Sunday evening and Wednesday afteernoon, but there's no evidence to indicate that these are the best times. Ideas?

Posted by Dale Connelly | March 8, 2010 7:52 AM

Boy - I just re-read my post. I must need to go back to bed...I'm certainly not living up to my last name this morning. Sounding less like my name and more like Anna Crabby Pants.

Mr. Blackhoof - you rock your name however you choose. It's yours after all.

Posted by Anna Crabby Pants | March 8, 2010 7:58 AM

if orbison had been in our gang growing up we would have named him buffa, after the bison half of his name. obscure enough to make it an insiders secret but something to build on. but with a name like orbison it is almost not needed. if it were lbill or tom you would want a handle but orbison just needs pop bottle bottom glasses and should be good to go from there. he is never going to be the captain of the football team or the leader of the gang of bullies that rule the school. a guy named orbison can't be a mean guy. he could be a great debate captain, a high school president morphing into a political phenom, president of the bank and of course a world class performer that behoove all of us send in requests for his latest platinum cd.
names don't make the person but they sure can test em and orbison blackhoof would certainly do that.
have you done that midnight bowling with the black lights and loud loud music. it is a kick.
i'll bet it takes an extra effort to clean up after the late night party bowling huh buffa?

Posted by tim | March 8, 2010 8:04 AM

my preferrd time for the replays of pat donahue-like concerts would be in the saturday morning slot before the thistle and shamrock string of great heartland adders begin.
saturday morning is a my time kind of block and the music that jasper chooses is always welcome but it would be a good slot for this group of early risers. does anyone sleep in past 8 on saturday? aaron you are expected to sleep in on saturday. thats part of being 24. anyone else?

Posted by tim | March 8, 2010 8:13 AM

Orb-one can out-grow one's name and rise above it. I went to elementary school with a very short, extremely chubby little girl named Brenda who was cruelly nicknamed "Put-Put" since she was the slowest at running the 600 yard dash in gym class. She moved to another town when we were 7th graders, and no one saw her again until she came back to town for a visit when we were seniors. I remember someone running down the hall one day exclaiming"Put-Put's back!" and this tall, thin, beautiful young woman came down our senior hallway, Put-Put no longer.

Posted by Renee | March 8, 2010 8:18 AM

Tim, great minds, etc.
i was going to suggest "buffer" for Orbison, since he must maintain those shiny wooden alley floors, dontcha think? Buffa would be even better.
Anna - you sounded crabby? didn't think so.

cleaning another pen out this week - any takers???

Sherrilee - "our" bluebirds will be arriving soon - we have plenty of open pasture, but they love mowed meadow or lawn because the bug, grubs, etc. are easier to find then. they also like me to set out the grubs when i am digging in the garden. then they fly up to the top of our electric pole (we call it the abattoir) and whap the grub senseless and eat it or take it to the babies.

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | March 8, 2010 8:27 AM

Production emergency after I returned from a 4 day weekend. Missed almost all of the show! Happy Monday, all!

Posted by elinor | March 8, 2010 8:31 AM

Then again, there was the manager of the grocery store who was large and teddy-bear like, and who resembled Dancing Bear from Captain Kangaroo-The high school carry out boys called him Dancing Silo.

Posted by Renee | March 8, 2010 8:51 AM

Dear Anna Crabby Pants,

... I don't know... I kinda enjoyed your first post!

Like I always say, no point in sugar coating it.

Posted by Ben the Ogre | March 8, 2010 9:10 AM

Barb in Blackhoof,

(Yeah, i'm off topic again...)
Cleaning pens is a good solid 'look-what-I-did' type of job that gives you a sense of satisfaction and physical workout at the same time. Do you prefer 3, 4 or 5 tine pitch fork?
I remember conversations with my Dad as we cleaned calf pens...
And sometimes, if my brother was out way too late the night before, Dad would make sure said brother was up at 7AM cleaning calf pens the next morning.
One time some kids drove their car around in the fields damaging crops and when they were caught the punishment was cleaning calf pens... they weren't bad kids... just a little bored that particular night.

(I never got in trouble like that... .... ... or at least I was smart enough not to get caught.)

Posted by Ben | March 8, 2010 9:17 AM

Barb... you know, the more you talk about the farm and the goats and now the bluebirds, the more I want to come visit!

Posted by sherrilee | March 8, 2010 10:13 AM

Ben and Barb,

Cleaning pens for goats and calves sounds like difficult, smelly, thankless work. Do the animals show any appreciation for your hard work? I suppose they don't even notice, although a festering pen would bother them after a while, no?
The Festering Pen. That sounds like the name of a bar that would cater to bikers and blocked writers.

Posted by Dale Connelly | March 8, 2010 10:15 AM

My Great Uncle Albert lived near Baudette, Mn and tried to eke out a living farming up there. He solved the pen cleaning problem by simply not doing it-You had to step up to get through the barn door. My dad called him the laziest farmer he knew-all he wanted to do was sit under a big, shady tree in a moldy upholstered chair and play his fiddle. His wife-Aunt Ella, would take her milking stool and bucket out to the pasture and the cow would just stand there while she milked her. I loved going to see them and fish in the Rainy River and eat wild raspberries from bushes that surrounded their yard.

Posted by Renee | March 8, 2010 10:25 AM

Renee I didn't think there were any lazy farmers. It is so hard to make a living off the land that it is hard for me to imagine anyone keeping in business without a strong work ethic.

Farmers I've known are also highly aware of a need to keep up appearances. Farming is surprisingly public. As people drive by a farm, they can evaluate how quickly the owner of that place gets to a task and how neat he is. It can be difficult to get farmers to operate more ecologically if they think their place will begin to look sloppy to those driving by.

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | March 8, 2010 10:37 AM

Sherilee - Maybe we'll have to see if we can organize a field trip for us city kids (if Barb and the goats will have us). Would certainly be a nice change of pace from dirty city snow...

(And it's good to know I sounded less crabby to y'all then I did in my own head...)

Posted by Anna | March 8, 2010 10:49 AM

Steve-I meant no offence to farmers as a group-They are some of the hardest working people I know, and manyof my relatives are farmers. I don't know how on earth my great uncle made a living. He was an exception in the farming world-why would a guy leave SW Minnesota-NW Iowa and move to the north woods to farm? My dad said he moved because he got into a fight with his older brother, Herman some time in the 1920's, and there were gun shots exchanged. I don't think he really wanted to farm, and spent more time fishing and hunting. His house was never painted that I recall, and the place was pretty run down. He and Ella raised several boys who went on to much more successful careers. I don't believe Albert cared much what people thought of him. He was happy living as he did.

Posted by Renee | March 8, 2010 11:04 AM


Love Love LOVE the name 'The Festering Pen'. The mind swoons at the possibilities!

I can't speak for goats but the calves would enjoy getting new bedding-- run and jump and kick their hooves. But you could put new bedding on a thick pack and they'd still enjoy it-- they're as easily pleased as they are disturbed.
What about goats Barb?
(I could go on about manure... too much...don't get me started....)

I know a few lazy farmers too... takes all kinds to make the world go round doesn't it?

Steve is right though-- public appearance is very important. And no offense taken Renee.

(...going even further off topic... sorry Dale!)

Posted by Ben | March 8, 2010 11:25 AM

spent the last 3.5 hours trying to learn Quick Books, entering a chart of accounts and a budget for a non-profit treasurer job (way less fun than cleaning pens!)
i just love "festering pens" also, Dale - way cool name.
goats like deep bedding in the winter because it keeps them warm. gotta get it clean for the kiddos. but i have to say, Ben, that from what i remember about calf poop (or cow poop) - cleaning up after goats is a waaaaaaay better job! even the babies are pelleting by the time they are two weeks old. we all cheer for them then. :-) and i like a four tine because i can't lift the load on a five tine. i use a heavy garden rake also, to rake off layers (BRICKS) of old hay/mix. yeah, sorry Dale!

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | March 8, 2010 11:41 AM

Dale - It was a fantastic show - so glad were in the audience. We brought another, younger couple with us. I have heard from them asking when the re-broadcast might be.
How about a Friday afternoon/ early evening broadcast? Does that interfere with any of the shows already in place? It might be seen as a 'start of the weekend' celebration?? Also a good vehicle for promoting the artists that are appearing on Sat/Sun that weekend; it might be just the enticement needed to encourage those of us who get plans rolling at the last minute.
It was very nice to see your friendly face and hear your familiar voice at the start of the show, too. When you walked onto the stage I said to our guests, "Hey! It's Dale!" They looked at me with suspicion, and then realization dawned - this was "the guy" from Radio Heartland. The voice had materialized with a body attached. I think they were dazzled because neither one of them could speak for a while. Do you appear at the Fitz regularly? If so, hope to see you there at another fine event soon.

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | March 8, 2010 11:47 AM

My great grandfather apparently shortened our family name from Engebritson to Britson 'way back. I always wondered what it would have been like to be Barbara Engebritson instead... Would have sat next to d-e-f people in school instead of B people, for instance.

Renee - your Great Uncle Albert sounds like such a colorful character there should be a movie about him, and shouldn't Orbison Blackhoof play the lead?

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | March 8, 2010 12:58 PM

When my mother's family came over from Germany, they decided that they would change the name. It was Rumpf. They took off the "f" and then decided to give themselves airs, so added a Von on the end. That's the trouble w/ changing a name in a language you don't know. My mother grew up w/ Von Rump as her moniker. She always said she was attracted to my dad because of his very common English name!

Posted by sherrilee | March 8, 2010 1:00 PM

Barbara-That's a great idea, but only if Orbison was willing to wear striped overalls and smoke cigars.

Posted by Renee | March 8, 2010 3:23 PM

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