⚡️Mr. Foreman’s Amazing Electric Ephemera⚡️

“Guaranteed to take no longer to be read than takes a single cup of coffee to be drunk.”


In modern American culture, names are assigned by our parents shortly after we’re born. We don’t get a say in it at first, but we can always change it later. A name defines us, if we let it.


a thoughtful exploration of interesting topics enhanced by personal experience; topics begin at the Theme and, like growing trees, sprout branches into unpredictable areas.

Lots of people have just one name and everybody calls them that one name. Most people have a nickname, maybe a different one for every circle of friends or acquaintances.

My given name is James, the latinization of the classic Hebrew name Jacob (Iacomus). My name is জেমস in Bengali, Kimo in Hawaiian, and जेम्स in Hindi. It’s the most common name of American presidents. It was in the top 5 most common names for boys in English-speaking countries during the 20th century. Lately, it’s fallen into the top 20. James just isn’t as popular as it used to be. There are many diminutive variations of my name, and I’ve heard most of them. Did you know Jay Leno’s name is James? Jay! That’s one I don’t hear very often but I do once in a while.

Here are some of my names.

Brojay, Seamus: this is what my mom called her late brother, also James, and I kind of remind her of him. She calls me this occasionally.

JamesForeman: the whole thing, both words. Some very dear friends call me this, because they know me from social media, where I am universally known as James Foreman. They see both words together when they think of me, and that’s great!

Foreman: some people call me by my last name. I used to hate it, because it reminded me of the middle school and high school, the locus of many of my worst memories, and I don’t like being reminded of things that remind me of my worst memories. But people I love very much started calling me that and middle school was 30 years ago, so I got over it.

JF (JayEff): people who know me from social media but don’t want to say the whole thing often call me this.

James: those who know me from social media will sometimes call me James. People who knew of my name before they met me via an in-person introduction tend to call me James. This includes a lot of people I know from school or work. I went through a period of preferring to be called James because I was watching Top Gear a lot and it sounded so much cooler and more British. This is a pretty good guide to whether or not the person addressing me knows me informally, like a solicitor or person from a doctor’s office.

Jim: This is what most people call me. It’s the standard American name for people named James. It’s what Spock and Bones called Kirk, when they were being informal or insistent.

Video: Every time Spock says “Jim”

Jimmy: This is my Real Name. This is what I grew up being called, and what I prefer. My siblings still call me this, and any friends I have from before high school. Most of the people I meet through my siblings use this, too. If you call me Jimmy, I automatically like you. I can’t help it.

Among the other names I’ve heard include Jimmy Jimmy Co-Co Pop (Linsly Day Camp c. 1987), Jee-um (WVU c. 1995-2000), and Mister James (2018-present).

“I call everyone ‘Darling’ because I can’t remember their names.” — Zsa Zsa Gabor

Fake Names

I’ve decided to rebrand myself, because my name is no longer an SEO slam-dunk. It used to be! When you searched for James Foreman, I was always the top result. But then Google got smarter, and started correcting our spelling mistakes, and most people who are looking for James Foreman are actually looking for James Forman, a famous civil rights hero who died in 2005. If you’re not looking for James Forman, you’re looking for his son, James Forman Jr., a legal scholar and prolific writer.

Other James Foremans who are more famous than me include a Nova Scotian businessman and a British YouTuber who really, really wants to be famous https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9O8_OjSAnKGJxQBFs1Sj-w. My search stopped there, because I’m the fourth result when you tell Google that you are really, actually, trying to search for James Foreman and not James Forman (but even then, Google thinks you’re really actually looking for the Civil Rights leader, which you probably are). The result goes to a thing I wrote in 2004, for McSweeney’s and one of my proudest moments as a creative person. It’s not a big accomplishment but it’s mine.

Call me a Pollyanna but I still think I might one day publish a book, so I’ve started signing my writing as Hazlett Foreman. It’s still my name, but it’s not James. Hazlett isn’t a first name, but it’s my middle name, my mother’s maiden name, and the surname of a vast quantity of cousins. It’s a good name. If you’re from Pittsburgh, you probably know it, because there’s a street called Hazlett and a theater, too.


Those things are named after Theodore Lyle Hazlett, who died at age 60 but was a champion of the arts under Mayor David Lawrence (there’s a convention center named after him). I don’t know how closely I’m related to him, but not close enough that his descendants show up at my family reunions, and I had never heard of him before looking up the theater. I have heard that Hazletts who are occasionally seen in the vicinity of the Hazlett Theater are descendants of Theodore and rightly correct people on the pronunciation of the name: Haze-let, not Hazz-let.

Previous to my research, I thought the theater was named for Charles Hazlett, a Lieutenant during Gettysburg, commanding artillery on Little Round Top and being pretty ineffectual because they were getting peppered with sniper fire and it’s hard to load, aim and fire cannons when Johnny Reb is picking off your men with squirrel rifles. Charles himself was killed by a sniper, probably because he was wearing a colorful hat that everybody told him to stop wearing because it made him a target to the confederate snipers who fatally wounded his General before taking Hazlett out.


My grandfather was also a James Hazlett, and he was a world-renowned expert on Civil War artillery. He wrote a book about it. He probably got interested in artillery because of the family history, but I can’t be sure about that (he’s not alive anymore or I’d ask him). The artillery commanded by our relative, Charles Hazlett, consisted of six 10-pounder Parrot rifles. But I thought rifles were things you held in your hand! And they look like they weigh a lot more than 10 pounds! Well, you’d be right. These guns were made out of iron and weighed a lot more than 10 pounds. It was the ammunition that weighed ten pounds, and a rifle is any weapon with a “rifled” barrel, or one that has ridges carved on the inside. Those ridges spin the projectile, like a football, making it more accurate. I have one of those projectiles in my closet. It’s not dangerous. They aren’t bombs that explode, they’re just big bullets. Well, some of them exploded, but I don’t have any of those.

The point of any weapon of war is to kill people or destroy their stuff. War is a grim, disgusting business. The inert, heavy ball of metal in my closet, when thrown out of the muzzle of a cannon at 440 meters per second, destroyed any life it encountered. It also does an excellent job holding down the papers on my desk when the wind picks up.


A selection of delights both digital and physical, curated for your enjoyment

Before Hamilton, there was another musical about the founding of the country: 1776. It was huge at the time of its initial run, which was right around the bicentennial. My favorite song from it is this one, a simple little song from the point of view of an American soldier guiding his mother to find his dead body under a tree. Because so many great things are also about something else, it’s a powerful indictment of Vietnam which means it also works as a powerful indictment of war in general.


There is a tantalizing note in Charles Hazlett’s Wikipedia entry about a court martial while he was at West Point (he graduated anyway), but I haven’t read the book that mentions it. My uncle and fellow James C. Hazlett namesake, my mother’s brother, was famously misbehaved in college, too. The family legend is that he was the inspiration for a number of characters in Animal House, as he went to Cornell with one or more of the filmmakers. I don’t know enough of them to ask if the story is true.

Anecdotus Continuat Personalis

I, too, was almost kicked out of college. My freshman roommate brought a water balloon launcher, which was just a big slingshot that one person held on each side while the person in the middle pulled the water balloon back and let it fly. We took the screen out of our window and launched some watery artillery of our own. We were on the seventh floor of Bennett Tower, with a perfect angle to the main entrance, between Braxton and Brooke Towers, where the taxis let off the drunks. We made the mistake of doing this in the middle of the day, and some kids across the way in Braxton saw us, and fired an empty airsoft gun in our direction. Lunch ladies taking a smoke break saw the gun, called the police, the kids in Braxton ratted us out and the police came looking for us. I went to class, but my roommate was there to take the heat. He got expelled. I had to write an essay for the Tower newsletter about how dangerous water balloons are. I was told very clearly that I was nearly expelled, too, even though all I did was hold one side of the slingshot. As a person who rarely misbehaves, this incident made people Worry About What College Was Doing to me. Their fears were unfounded, because I behaved very well after that.


Wikipedia entry for Charles Hazlett: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_E._Hazlett

NY Times Obituary for Theodore Lyle Hazlett: https://www.nytimes.com/1979/07/10/archives/theodore-lyle-hazlett-jr-at-60-was-head-of-aw-mellon-trust.html

A small group of large men in Civil War garb firing a gun like the ones commanded by Charles Hazlett: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AOH_BF6V5qQ


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