All the Barbara Rosses

by Barb, baking pies and getting excited about Thanksgiving

Ross coat of armsBarbara Ross is my real name, though I often think if I’d known then what I know now, I would have published under a pseudonym. No, the problem isn’t shelf placement. Ross does put me on one of those very bottom shelves you can hardly peer into at Porter Square, my local bookstore in Massachusetts. But it pops me onto an excellent eye-level shelf at Shermans, my local bookstore when I’m in Maine.

The problem is there are way, way too many Barbara Rosses. I’ve been aware of this for a long time. It’s been my name all my life. I’ve never used my husband’s surname. When I was a kid, there were five Barbara Rosses registered at the local pediatric practice. In adulthood, for a dozen or more years, the local PBS station has mined some humor, and probably some dollars, but having their fundraising calls to me made by another Barbara Ross. Locally, there’s also a Barbara Ross who’s a nurse, whose class reunions I am regularly invited to, and a Barbara Ross who’s an accompanist, who must arrive at a lot of empty rehearsal halls because the calls cancelling the engagements are sitting, unheeded, in my voice mail.

GoopsAs to the Barbara Ross authors, there’s one who writes for the Daily News and other outlets in New York City who has one or more by-lines every day. And there’s Barbara Ross, the modern-day adapter of the classic children’s books, including Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Children. Then there’s the Barbara Ross who co-wrote Anaesthetic and Sedative Techniques for Aquatic Animals and the one who co-wrote Stony Brook University Off the Record: Students Tell It Like It Is. And the one who wrote Sick And Tired Of Being Sick And Tired.

I am none of these Barbara Rosses.

Ross is the 80th most common surname in the United States and Barbara is the 4th most common given name, so I suppose this is all inevitable. Barbara has never had a resurgence, like some other “a” ending names like Isabella, Anna, Sophia, so all Barbara Rosses are between age 50 and death. I have a Google alert on my name and am regularly sent my own obituary.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Barbara Rosses is that while we are rarely famous, we are more frequently “fame-adjacent.” Here’s a run-down so you’ll see what I mean.

Dr. Ross-Lee
Barbara Ross-Lee

Barbara Ross-Lee: If you Google Barbara Ross, this is the one that will pop up. She is an osteopath and is currently vice president for health sciences and medical affairs and dean of the School of Allied Health and Life Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology. She is one of only six or seven female medical school deans and the first and only African-American woman to lead a medical school in the US. Pretty impressive, right? But even as the best known Barbara Ross, Dr. Ross-Lee is fame-adjacent. Her younger sister is the singer-actress-diva, Diana Ross.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Barbara Ross Rothweiler: Another name you’ll find Googling, Dr. Rothweiler is a licensed psychologist, with board certification in neuropsychology and rehabilitation psychology. Again, not shabby. But she is also the daughter of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross MD, who wrote On Death and Dying, and defined the five stages of grief.

divergentBarbara Ross: Another Barbara Ross is an Illinois-based artist who is best known as the mother of Veronica Roth, the now twenty-six year-old author of the Divergent Trilogy, Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, which have sold over five million copies and have been made into a major motion picture franchise starring Shailene Woodley.

Sisters, mothers, daughters. I don’t know what to make of all this fame-adjacentness, except to predict that someone close to me is going to become very famous.

I’ve always had a weird, dissociated relationship to my name. When people ask, “Are you called Barb or Barbara?” I answer “both,” but the truth is, I don’t know. I respond when called without consciously processing the word. I’m told that both I and my second cousin Barbara Jean are named for my mother’s, mother’s mother, but she died before my mother was born, and I’ve never actually confirmed that even was her name, since there seems to be some debate about it.

I’ve felt a little closer to Ross, which must be why I’ve kept it. There’s a Ross in MacBeth, and a coat of arms and a tartan. But one of the things I like best about it, is that between the Scottish diaspora, and the many people who’ve simplified German or Jewish or Russian or Polish or Italian or Spanish or even Japanese names to Ross, a Ross can be anyone from anywhere in the world.

So reader, what about you? Is your name common or un? Do you love it or hate it? Would you like to see it pop up as a character name in the next Maine Clambake Mystery? Leave a comment and let me know–it just might happen.

46 Thoughts

  1. When I was about 10 an announcer from a radio station did an in-store appearance at a department store. There was a contest. My name was called as the winner and 2 of us went to claim the prize. Turns out I was the right person.

    Other than that I’m the only me on Facebook which makes it easier for people to find me than for me to find them.

    I love the Maine Clambake series and would love to be a character in it.

  2. At least you are not consistently thought to be male. My mother originally wanted to call me Bridget Marie. We could not leave the house on St. Patrick’s Day without my mother asking are we not proud of our heritage? Something green was required. It would have been less confusion.

      1. Thanks. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I a NOT dreaming of a white Thanksgving, but Mother Nature is providing.

  3. My first name is a common one, but the way it is spelled is not. When I was born, I was supposed to be Heather. But, my mom (so the story goes) looked at me and decided to name me Kelley (yes with an E-Y). My dad was befuddled, but went with it. I’ve had to spell my whole name, my whole life and have yet to see an ornament, mug, notepad, nothing with my name on it. I have come to embrace the uniqueness of the spelling though, and appreciate that it is different.

    1. I wrote a book with a victim named Tracey–same issue.

      My kids names are very common, but I have nieces and nephews with all kinds of names. I grew to really appreciated places that did personalization on the spot instead of the pre=made/

  4. Oh, I could go on forever on this topic!
    As you can see, my name is Tonette Joyce. That is my maiden name.No one can remember “Tonette” and I have been called the oddest things.(And since I moved to Kentucky , almost everyone here insists on adding an ‘ a; to the end.) I answer to “Ah-Ah…”; it is the sound of someone who wants to address me and can’t remember my name. To top it off, my name was always turned around, since we aren’t in Ireland, Joyce is considered a first name.(I had a librarian type my name backwards on a new card when I was a teen, even though I had learner to print my name :JOYCE, Tonette. She said, “I saw that but thought “Joyce CAN’T be a last name.” I said, “You can ban James Joyce if you want, but you should at least know who he is.”
    But I do use it to write, since I not only had copyrights in my name before I married, but my married name is “Skube”, pronounced like “Scooby”. You can imagine the continual jokes. I figure if you hear “Joyce”, you MAY think “writer; but if you hear “Skube” you WILL think “cartoon dog”. Unique, yes. Would I change my name if I had it to do over again…yes.
    I have a bet that I am the only Tonette Joyce or Tonette Skube in the world. It’s a continual fight.

    1. This made me laugh. I not only answer to “Ah…ah…ah…,” I also call people that/ There’s a Richelle in Boiled Over. She was a contest winner and wanted her own name in the book because she’d never met another. I bet Tonette is the same.

      1. My mother was sure that she had made the name up,(cut short from her mother’s name.”Antonietta”), but there are a few “Tonettes” around, although I have never met one personally.My sister met one who happened to be visiting in Las Vegas when she was some years ago. A few years later a gentleman told me he knew one when he was growing up. I saw a little girl in a newspaper once, (now she is no longer little), and there was a chimp in the Chicago zoo who was a Tonette; I’m sure it is dead of old age by now.(My sister has never let me live that one down, though.) Going through Facebook some years back , I found that there seems to be a number in the Philippines and Denmark…I have no clue why.

  5. When I saw that picture of the doctor Barbara Ross, I thought there was something familiar about her face! My name is of an even older generation than yours – most are/were my mother’s age. I was astonished to find a woman this year named Edith in a weekly exercise class of eight people, and she’s younger than I am (but Canadian, so…). We delight in saying, “Hi, Edith,” to each other, since we never get to. There are a couple of other Edith Maxwells on Facebook, and then there’s the 21-year old schoolteacher who infamously was convicted and later acquitted of killing her father in 1935 in Virginia.

    1. Yes, Edith is more common in the generation before ours. Most Edith our age are named for their aunts. The name of someone famously tried for murder is a good name for a mystery writer, though.

  6. My husband’s surname is Williams, and there are a lot of them, so I hung on to my own (or rather, my father’s) surname, Connolly. Which doomed me to a lifetime of correcting other people’s misspellings of it (no, there is not, nor has there ever been, a “e” in it!). Although we gave our daughter the Williams surname, dooming her to be at the back of the line or the back row in the room.

    My favorite doppelganger is a 1950s B actress who shares my name–who was married to actor Guy Madison, who starred in the TV series Wild Bill Hickok, which (gulp) I remember. That Sheila apparently lives on Cape Cod and has written an autobiography, so every time I look for myself on Amazon, there she is. Maybe we should have lunch someday.

    1. You forwent Williams and then moved to what must be the epicenter of Connollys (and Connellys) in the US. I was just explaining to my husband last week how to spell your name. He’d gone with the “e.”

  7. Another writer with my same name, Janet Mendelsohn, same spelling (people often omit the h), shops at the wonderful Porter Square Books in Cambridge but unlike me she often writes from Jerusalem and also is a film maker. Google and you get both of us. Before I moved farther afield, I had to make sure they credited my account, not hers, to earn credit towards a discount. Apparently she did the same. My mom once said I was named after an actress, Janet Gaynor, who nobody remembers now.

  8. There are three people in the State of Maine with the surname Rössel: my brother, his wife and me. Even in Sweden, whence came my grandfather and grandmother, the name is uncommon. So my surname is so near to yours, yet far away. I’m pretty fond of the name and it’s my son’s middle name. Even when I was married, I used it, as I never identified with the ‘other name’. Now I’ve reclaimed it. I especially like the ö in it, which confuses people. This is good. My first name? I was named for my father, Carl Rössel. So was my brother. So is my grandson. And Dad was named after my grandmother Rössel’s brother. Unfortunately, I was born in a year in which a LOT of Carols who were not related to my father were born. Five were in my grammar school class. I have always been SO delighted that my name was hyphenated and almost nobody is named Carol-Lynn. So I hyphenated both my children’s names.

    1. Another Ross-simiiar name. Both my daughter and my graddaughter have middle names that could be called into duty if there were 12 of them in a kindergarten class, but I never thought to hyphenate.

  9. Hi Barbara, I love the clambake mysteries and am looking forward to the next. My name is not unusual but no one ever pronounces it correctly. Fanatically it is Va Silly Oh. If it ever appears in a clambake mystery, that would be a hoot. Feel free.

    Mike Vecellio

  10. My name is Mark Baker. Yeah, that’s a common one. So common I was a character in a book before I even started reading the series or the author even knew who I was. I’m a little surprised it hasn’t happened before. It’s one reason I adopted the Carstairs name for internet purposes. Throw on my birthday (the 38 is for March 8th), and I’ve got a name I haven’t run into anywhere else on the internet.

    And I’d love to be a character in your series!

    1. Mark Baker must be common, but it is also very Maine-y. Of course you’d have to put up with being called Mawk by the Mainers and Mahk by the Bostonians.

  11. Oh, the curse of the common name! I should have stuck with my maiden name Novinger which no one can pronounce correctly. Unlike your famous fame-adjacent people, Barb, my seem to be neer-do-wells, that don’t pay for their pizza, mortgages, or taxes. I have an all to familiar relationship with collection agencies who seem to distrust my assertion that I’m not that Sherry Harris. And I realize I call you both Barb and Barbara.

    1. Have I been pronouncing your maiden name wrong in my head all these years? Of course, I pronounced Mugavero wrong for years, and still do occasionally.

      I know those debt collection calls. Somehow they are convinced I personally know everyone with my husband’s last name in the entire US. I don’t.

  12. The curse of a common name is also a blessing. Most of the time, you don’t have to spell it. Mary Ann was so common when I was growing up that there were 4 Mary Anns in a row of five houses on my street. And what could be simpler than those two names? Put them together and they cause spelling problems. Possibly because a poet named Marianne Moore made an alternate spelling popular, I have to tell people how to spell my name: a Y not an I, a space and a capital A, no E at the end. So I picked a pen name that I figured no one would have a problem spelling after Maya Angelou (whose given name was Margaret) became famous. When I tell people my name is Maya, I hear things like, “Is that M-Y-A or M-A-I-A?” So count your blessing, Barbara Ross and Sherry Harris.

    1. I have a sister-in-law names Mary Ann and a sister-in-law named Ann, and to this day when addressing things, I still go in my head, “Is there an ‘e’?”

  13. I have occasionally been asked if I’m writing under a pseudonym. Really? Why would I ever pick this one? (But it does provide exceptional shelf placement, between Sandra Brown and James Lee Burke!)

  14. I was named for my mother, Ruth, and my godmother, Mary, and always thought my name so plain that I named my daughter Jennifer. A name that I thought was unique until she got to school. Five Jennifers in her class! One teacher called her McJen. Her friends in college called her Jenna. It’s amazing to me that our name is so important and we almost have no say in it. Great topic, Barb!

  15. I should point out that even with a name like Mark Baker, I still have had people call and ask for Mark Barker or some other weird name. Is my name really that hard to spell or pronounce? Of course, that’s when I know it’s a sales call and I tell them that Mr. Barker is no longer at this number….

      1. It does. I know two of them. 🙂 But I love Mark’s comment about using mispronunciations to fend off feckless callers. It’s a sure sign for us, too — and for my husband, when he’s called “Mr. Budewitz.”

  16. Fun post, Barb! Lots to think about with regard to taking on a pseudonym! I find myself trying to work my way back to my birth name. I was born in Salem as Kathleen Harrington, but when it came time to make it official my mother decided she didn’t want people calling me Kate (which I love) and named me Maureen leaving my aunts and uncles to call me Reen (if they were Irish) or Reine (if they were French). I’d like to go back to Kate Harrington. That’s what I’m aiming at but don’t know quite how to make the transition. 🙂

Comments are closed.