Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pistachio on GalleyCat

Pistachio, my cat and sometime model, is pictured today on GalleyCat - "The First Word on the Book Publishing Industry" - which is brought to you by Mediabistro. He is holding a Christmas stocking which appears to say "FRAM SANTA WITH LUVE". I think he must have knitted it himself. Here's another shot from the same photo session.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My grandfather was born Johannes Ferdinand Schoenherr 108 years ago today in Flensburg, Germany, in a house subsequently destroyed during World War II. The house was a stone's throw from Nordertor, the city's old north gate - and somewhere on the left in the picture, I think.

I've always pronounced my surname "Show-in-hare", but I'm not sure if I should, after all. I know the first part ought to be pronounced as it is in the German phrase "Danke Schoen" - somewhere between "shern" and "shane", depending on the dialect (and, yes, I've left out the umlaut issues, for clarity's sake). And "herr" ought to be pronounced "hare" or "hair", not necessarily "her". Thus, "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare". Right?

Well, I've been trying to ferret out the source. I haven't had much luck tracing my Schoenherr line back very far, but I recently found that my grandfather's grandfather, Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr, was born in or very near Kleinpelsen, Sachsen (about midway between Leipzig and Dresden), in 1834. For a yet-unknown reason, he left his wife and three sons (including my great-grandfather) in Flensburg and moved to America in 1866. By 1869 he was living in Missouri and finally settled in Carterville, where he worked as a blacksmith and saloon-keeper, and where he died in 1909. Then, in the wake of World War I-era anti-German sentiment, his sons (my half-great-great uncles or great-great half-uncles) legally changed their surnames to Shaner.

So I've been wondering if Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr pronounced his surname "Shay-ner" all along, rather than "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare" - not to mention "Show-in-hare". And should I do the same?

I need a second opinion...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gray Area

Regarding my middle name, Gray: it was carried to Manhattan in 1860 by an Irish laborer and sometime hod-carrier, who planted it in Hell's Kitchen (including 20 years in the tenements of "Battle Row") before his butcher/boxer son uprooted it, brought it across the East River to Woodside, Queens County, in 1899 or 1900, and pinned it to his thirteen children, including my grandfather (born, coincidentally, the very day before Howard Pyle died), who passed it on to his three daughters. And then my mother presented it to me. Somewhere along the way I shed it from my "professional" name, but, having traced the colorful history of the Grays, I regret not keeping it - especially since it's the only part of my name that's easily pronounced.

Speaking of "Battle Row" - I first came across the term in The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, but I just found another reference to it in The Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor for the Year 1879 (published about the same time my people moved to the block):
On West 39th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, stand a block of tenements known as "Battle Row," and almost equally well as "Murderer's Row." For years this place has borne an evil reputation, having always been a source of great trouble to the police. Its inmates are the terror of the neighborhood. It is the cradle of some of the worst Tenth Avenue gangs, and the scene of constant broils, both domestic and with whoever the roughs may chance to pick a quarrel. Arrests are of such frequent occurrence as to excite but little remark. The police themselves are frequently attacked, one, nicknamed " The Brute," having been knocked senseless with a brick only three or four weeks ago; another, the officer with whom I conversed, was himself struck with a similar missile....
More can be found here. It's no wonder the Grays escaped!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pronouncing Myself

On my website bio I say that my name is pronounced "Yahn Show-in-hare". Legend has it that my father's fondness for the paintings of Jan Vermeer led him to want to call me Jan (pronounced "Yahn"), but there was concern that folks wouldn't understand and call me Jan (as in Jan Brady, or something). My mother, meanwhile, being English and Irish, liked the name Ian (pronounced "Ee-in"). So they compromised and named me Ian, but always called me "Yahn" - as do most people who know me well. I'll answer to "Ee-in", but, frankly, it grates a little. I've tried to justify the odd or alternate pronunciation by explaining that the old German (or Latin?) alphabet didn't contain the letter "J", so even Jan (a diminutive of Johannes) Vermeer used to spelled his first name with an "I", but even I find this rationale barely convincing. Then again, I still think "Yahn" is really more of a permanent nickname and that my actual full name is Ian Gray Schoenherr, pronounced "Ee-in Gray Show-in-hare". So I half-wish that I was named and called either Jan Schoenherr or Ian Gray Schoenherr instead of occupying this uneasy middle ground.