Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sacagawea: An American Icon

On August 31, 1803, the Lewis and Clark Expedition left Pittsburgh to, in the words of President Thomas Jefferson,
“explore the Missouri River and such principal stream of it as by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river that may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.”
Among the expedition party—and arguably its most famous member, surpassing even Lewis and, er, that other guy—was the Shoshone woman Sacagawea, who not only served as the expedition’s interpreter and guide across thousands of miles of unfamiliar, unforgiving, and potentially hostile wilderness, but also did everything the other explorers did, except backwards and in high heels.1

While genuine biographical facts about Sacagawea are limited,2 her presence on the Expedition was not only integral to its success but also remarkable in that she joined the expedition while pregnant, gave birth in the middle of it, and carried on until the end with a newborn son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, in tow.3 It’s known that she later had another child, Lizette, with Toussaint Charbonneau; in 1811 she survived an attack on Fort Lisa, North Dakota, that took the lives of fifteen men; and in 1999 she became, by a wide margin, the least-butch woman ever to grace U.S. currency.

The sparse but commonly accepted history suggests that that Sacagawea died of a “putrid fever” on December 20, 1812, at only about twenty-four years old, at Fort Lisa, North Dakota. However, an alternate theory has been put forth that suggests that she long outlived this purported 1812 death, married into a Comanche tribe (after either a separation from, or the death of, Toussaint Charbonneau), and survived into the 1880s. This theory also suggests that, in addition to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau and Lizette Charbonneau, Sacagawea had five children by her second husband, a man named—according to this alternate theory—Jerk Meat.

I’ll repeat that more loudly, for those of you in the cheap seats: Jerk Meat. Please stop snickering—history is serious business.

It’s quite possible that naming conventions in nineteenth-century Comanche society didn’t fully anticipate the prevalence of the Beavis and Butt-head mentality of early twenty-first century American culture, but . . . seriously, Jerk Meat? How much did that poor guy get picked on as a kid?

If this alternate theory is to believed, there’s one trend that Jerk Meat’s parents did fully anticipate, and that’s the urge to give a poor, unsuspecting, defenseless little kid a ruthlessly stupid name. It’s unclear whether famous people gravitate towards this kind of name more than regular folks or it just seems that way, but famous people’s stupidly-named children are certainly easier to track down, so those are the ones I’m going to point out:4

  • Kal-El: Son of Nicholas Cage, who apparently dreams of launching his boy out into deep space. I guess if you’re going to name your kid after a comic-book character, you could do worse. “Spawn” comes to mind.
  • Pilot Inspecktor: Son of Jason Lee, former skateboarder and star of My Name is Earl, a show in which his wife’s son, Dodge, got his name because his (at the time) unknown father drove a Ford. The silly-name theme extends even to fiction.
  • Fifi Trixibelle: Daughter of Bob Geldof, singer of the Boomtown Rats’ lone hit “I Don’t Like Mondays,” and later star of the movie version of The Wall. For all we know, he may also have other accomplishments in the last twenty-eight years.
  • Apple: Daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and that dude from that band that wants to sound like U2. No, the other band. No, the other dude.
  • Prince Michael Jackson/Prince Michael Jackson II: Michael Jackson, one of his generation’s most gifted musicians and lyricists, apparently met his match when it came time for him to think up two measly boys’ names. So, in a stroke of genius, he named his boys after himself and their mother, Rogers Nelson.
  • George Jr., George III, George IV, George V and George VI: Sons of boxer George Foreman. I refuse to mock George Foreman for his name selection, on account of the fact that the guy has been punched in the head more times than I’ve gotten out of bed.4 Plus, I’m quite certain that he (at sixty-one years old), any of his sons, and most of his daughters could beat the shit out of me. So name your kids whatever you want, George, I’m not going to say a word.
  • Moon Unit, Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen, Ahmet, and Dweezil: children of musician and composer Frank Zappa. When “Ahmet” is the most normal name your kids end up with, maybe you should rethink your priorities. Technically, Dweezil Zappa was born Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa—pretty darn normal, by Zappa standards. He grew up being called “Dweezil,” however, and didn’t learn of his legal name until he was five. He wanted to be Dweezil for real, and had his name legally changed. This is all fine and good, but come on, he was five. Can you really trust a five-year-old’s judgment? When I was five, I wanted to be a train.
  • Sage Moonblood: Son, or perhaps daughter, of Sylvester Stallone. This isn’t any sort of commentary on Sage Moonblood Stallone’s masculinity or femininity, it’s just that Sage could be a man’s or a woman’s name, and I’m too lazy to look it up. And yes, I know how easy it is to look things up on the internet.
  • Moxie Crimefighter: Child of Penn Jillette, the noisy half of the magician and comedian duo Penn & Teller. If I weren’t in the middle of griping about how awful it is to give kids names like these, I might admit that “Crimefighter,” as a middle name, is pretty fucking awesome.
  • Tallulah, Scout, and Rumer: Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. I’m tempted to be complain that the least they could have done was spell “Rumer” like a real word,6 but I don’t think it’d do any good.
To be fair, regular unknown folks also do give their kids unusual names, although it’s a lot easier to find them when those kids get famous: Coco Crisp (baseball player), Peerless Pryce (American football player), Soleil Moon Frye (former child actress), Zooey Deschanel (current grown-up actress), Milton Bradley (baseball player/grouch). And Dane Cook, while he does not have children, has considered naming his children “Megatron and Optimus Prime.”7

While unfortunate names like these can (or did) lead to tough times growing up, these kids can take solace in knowing that their futures are not necessarily dim. History tells us8 that their spiritual predecessor, Jerk Meat, may well have led a very meaningful and satisfying life, if he actually existed; married a strong and beautiful woman, unless she’d actually died years before; lived to a ripe and joyous old age, as far as we know; and probably drifted blissfully off into the next life surrounded and supported by his loving children, Horseradish, Dick Head, Ted Nugent, Fatty Fatty Fatpants, and Mortimer Julius Underbuttocks III.

1. It’s possible that we’re confusing Sacagawea with Ginger Rogers. You’d be surprised how often this happens.
2. According to a Wikipedia article I just skimmed and essentially plagiarized. Their sentence reads, at the moment, “Reliable historical information about Sacagawea is very limited.” I rewrote the sentence as it appears above so I can pass it off as my own scholarship, which is why you will find no reference or link here to any Wikipedia article.
3. Take that, Meriwether Lewis, you non-childbearing pussy.
4. I got most of these names here.
5. And he’d back me up on this: "If you're in boxing, too; you heard of Muhammad Ali, Kenny Norton, Joe Frazier. Evander Holyfield. They all hit me on the head. How many names am I going to remember?"
6. Roomer, ruler, tumor. Pick one, they’re all real words.
7. This could easily be interpreted as part of a comedy routine, except that it is yet to be determined whether Dane Cook has ever tried to do anything funny.
8. Or it could, if it wanted to.


  1. Rumer always sounded to me like something you might hawk up a few days after being really sick.

    Regarding footnote 7, I think there is ample evidence to suggest that Cook has tried to be funny. What is very much in debate is whether he succeeded.

  2. The prevailing wisdom suggests that Dane Cook has indeed tried to be funny, but I'm not sure I buy it—you'd think that, with all that effort, he'd at least be occasionally funny on accident, much like even the most hammered of drunks, on his worst night and with his eyes closed, will still hit the urinal once in a while.

    I suspect Dane Cook is actually practicing anti-comedy. Astrophysicists tell us that if he were to collide with, say, Eddie Izzard, the result would be a colossal explosion and the release of photons.

  3. What, no reference to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"?

  4. cjfryguy, try to stay serious. We're talking about the names of real people here—everybody knows that Johnny Cash didn't actually exist.