by Barb, baking pies and getting excited about Thanksgiving
Barbara 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.
As 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.
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.
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.
Barbara 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.