On Names

(DAMMIT, I thought only LJ ate posts like this…argh! I can’t help but feel that my first pass at this was better written, but oh well, this is what I have.)

A lot of people have asked, so I realize I never clarified what happened with naming vis-a-vis BMA and O’s final name, so I thought I’d clarify. Markel, the middle name, was chosen by BMA, after a cousin of hers who was killed in a car crash years ago. Overton is a family name, and I wanted to give some history of it below. Some of this is from my own memories, some from my dad, some from family genealogy books I looked at while waiting for the birth, and some is from Wikipedia. (Yeah, yeah, bad librarian…)

James Overton Butler was my father’s father, but he never went by his first name except when he was in the service, when he was known as Jim. In WWII, he was a military detective, investigating crimes against the occupied people of France and Germany, which he evidently thought was below him: as a gentleman, he felt he should have been an officer. He was small-town southern aristocracy: he was a successful lawyer, and his family owned the bank and the general store. He was a bit of a playboy, evidently; his first two Christian Science healings were from smoking and drinking, with his last drink being a flute of champagne he threw into the fire at a bachelor party. When he rolled into my grandmother’s church in Birmingham in his late twenties, he was immediately introduced to all the “unclaimed blessings” (i.e. older single ladies) in the congregation, including Marguerite. He apparently dated every one of them before finally getting serious with Grandma, who was no shrinking violet herself. Overton was her fifth engagement (although her only marriage), and while they both had pasts, he refused to even sit on the couch next to her until they were engaged.

I think of Overton as a smart, gentle, proud man. My father describes him as a raconteur. He survived the loss of his family’s money in the crash (while his brother, apparently, went insane), he did needlepoint (my grandmother’s dining room chairs were all done by him), he was an excellent dancer, he wrote¬†Marguerite love letters while he was stationed in France, he was one of five siblings and wanted one child of his own. My grandmother, an only child herself, wanted a whole passel of kids, as long as they could all be boys; she thought that little girls were mean. Fate compromised for them, and eventually they had my father, their only child, when my grandmother was forty and her own mother was eighty. And he died of two heart attacks when my father was five years old.

He was called Overton because it was a family name. Back in the 1660s, our first European ancestor to come to the new world was William Overton. He settled in Virginia with his wife, Mary (their story is the inspiration for To Have and to Hold), and was typical of his day and place: settling the colony, owning lots of land, bringing people over to settle and work. According to family legend, he came to Virginia looking for his father, Robert Overton, who had actually been transported to Barbados, but more recent scholarship indicates that Robert died in England.

Major-General Robert Overton is the really interesting one. He was imprisoned in the Tower and on Jersey by both Cromwell and Charles II; he was friends with Milton, written about by Marvell and visited by Pepys; he was even governor of Edinburgh for a time. He supported the Republican cause, and at first just wanted Charles I to be deposed, but eventually became a regicide, and then rebelled against the Lord Protector, who he saw setting himself up as an erstatz king. He was imprisoned for his part in a revolt named after him, but eventually Parliament declared his imprisonment illegal. Although he did not support the Restoration, Charles II restored and rewarded Robert, but it was not to last. Arrested on suspicion of sedition, Tower again, Jersey again, and eventually released to live out his last few years near some of his children.

This is Robert Overton. Going back even further, there is an Overton in the Domesday Book, which is just wild. I’m not sure how I feel about genealogy in general, as an American, a Jew, and an adoptive parent, but finding out all this stuff was totally fascinating.

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One thought on “On Names

  1. I had no idea your family had been in the US for so long – or that they were famous enough to be in a book and a wikipedia article. That’s really cool. I bet Overton will appreciate having a name with such a neat history. I’ve tried to research my family tree but since my grandparents were the first to come to the US (and I don’t speak Italian, which pretty much rules out researching my mom’s side of the family), it gets difficult fairly quickly.

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