Commonplace Name

I am blessed (or cursed) with very popular name, Tom Glenn. Thomas (or Tom) is the nineth most common forename in the U.S., and Glenn 573rd most popular surname—there are an estimated 49,740 people with the last name Glenn. There is even another published author by the name Tom Glenn. His book is P-47 Pilots: The Fighter Bomber Boys (MBI Publishing Company LLC, December 6, 2014). I am regularly credited with having written that book, and I’m sure he is just as often assumed to have written mine.

“Tom Glenn” is also as short as names get, a single syllable for both the forename and the surname. That means that it is more often misunderstood than multisyllable names like Christopher Abernathy and Mortimer Singletary. When someone asks my name, I almost always have to repeat it to be understood.

And all too often, people err and call me John Glenn. That was the name of the world-famous astronaut and senator who died in 2016 at age 95. And while I intend to outlive that famous man—my ambition is to live past my birthday of a hundred years—I am in every other respect inferior to him and honored to be addressed by his name.

Because I am a linguist and writer, the origin and underlying meaning of my name intrigue me. The name “Thomas” comes from the Hebrew word “ta’om,” meaning “twin.” Its shortened version, Tom, is famous because of the fictional character Tom Thumb, reputed to have been no bigger than his father’s thumb, and Mark Twain’s 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The surname Glenn is derived from the Irish name glean or perhaps from the Scottish equivalent. It means “valley.”

Hence my all-too-common name. Its ordinariness has not prevented me from achieving some notoriety for my wartime adventures and my six books. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s Juliet who says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The problem is that certain other unmentionables, called by any other name, would still stink.

2 thoughts on “Commonplace Name”

  1. Tom,
    Clever post. I am married to a Tom who is anything but ordinary. You, too, are unique —and precious! Take that from a Rose by any other name.


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