The always clickworthy Poemas del río Wang has a post about Ouranoupoli and its history (it’s the last settlement before the border with Mount Athos); it’s full of the usual intriguing details and gorgeous illustrations, but I’m posting about this passage:

The tower of Ouranoupoli was probably built as early as the late 1200s, but the first written record of it only survives from 1379, when “Ioannes Palaiologos, Despot of Thessaloniki” stayed here and granted tax relief to the area. It is not clear who this Ioannes was. In this period, “despot” means an emperor’s son who is officially declared heir to the throne and is given the rule of an important province, such as Thessaloniki. In 1379, however, the despot of Thessaloniki, that is, the heir to the throne and local governor, was the later Emperor Manuel II, who held this office from 1376 until his accession to the throne in 1391. His son, the later Emperor John VIII – a participant in the Council of Florence-Ferrara, and a model for Piero della Francesca and Benozzo Gozzoli – was only seven years old in 1379, so he could not be it. As this Ioannes is mentioned on the Greek net only in connection with Ouranoupoli, and other Byzantine historical sites are silent about him, it is possible that he is just a long-surviving error of the historical literature. But tax relief, whoever granted it, suggests that the central government admitted that they could not pay the garrison, and in return they did not demand anything from what the soldiers produced for themselves.

It occurs to me that “despot” is a very misleading faux ami here; to ordinary (non-Byzantinist) English-speakers it means only (to quote M-W) “a ruler with absolute power and authority […]; one exercising power tyrannically,” which is not the sense needed here. I would suggest translating it in such contexts as “prince” or “crown prince.”

The OED (entry from 1895) explains the sense development thus:

1. Historical. A word which, in its Greek form, meant ‘master’ or ‘lord’ (e.g. of a household, of slaves), and was applied to a deity, and to the absolute ruler of a non-free people; in Byzantine times it was used of the Emperor, and, as representing Latin magister, in various official titles, also as a form of address (= domine n. my lord) to the emperor, to bishops, and especially to patriarchs; from the time of Alexius Comnenus it was the formal title of princes of the imperial house; in the sense ‘lord’ or ‘prince’, it was borne, after the Turkish conquest, by the petty Christian rulers of dependent or tributary provinces, as the despots of the Morea or of Serbia (= Serbian hospodar). It was in this later application that the word was first known in the Western languages.
In modern Greek, δεσπότης is the ordinary appellation of a bishop.


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Indeed, even in the Slavonic-using portions of the Eastern Orthodox world, when a bishop is present the choir typically lapses into Greek (often learned strictly phonetically without knowing what each morpheme actually means) and addresses him respectfully (in the vocative) as despota/δέσποτα/some-cyrillization-of-the-foregoing.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, I have the vague impression (although I don’t know the stuff well in Greek and don’t have time to google) that there are Byzantine hymns that (quite respectfully) address the Theotokos as “Despotess” or however you would do the female equivalent in English. These are most idiomatically translated into English with “lady,” on the same basis that, in old English hymnody and prayers, capital-L Lady is likely to be addressed to the Bl. Virgin Mary unless otherwise specified.

  3. I think, “In this period, ‘despot’ means an emperor’s son who is officially declared heir to the throne and is given the rule of an important province, such as Thessaloniki,” is not entirely accurate. The term δεσπότης was used unsystematically for various high-ranking nobles in the periods before and after the Latin Empire, as well as for the kings of some of the Greek successor states while Constantinople was in Western hands.

    In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, some of the despots were hereditary, although they were often also explicitly granted by the Byzantine Emperor upon the accession of a new ruler. The Despotate of Epirus was one of the major Greek successors during the Latin Empire, and it was never completely reintegrated into the restored Byzantine state. After the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire never again resembled a semi-unitary Roman-like state; it was a strictly feudal structure, and Epirus—located well away from the center of imperial power—often functioned as a more or less independent polity. After the restoration, several of the rulers of Epirus were bestowed the title of despot by the emperor, but they tended to refer to themselves as by that title whether or not they had officially received it from the emperor.

    Moreover, late Byzantine emperors often named all their sons (and sometime other male relations, such as sons-in-law) as despots; the eldest and heir apparent could be distinguished from the others by being named co-emperor. The term could also be used as a form of address to individuals who formally held other very high positions. Note, however, that none of this affects the incorrectness of “Ioannes Palaiologos, Despot of Thessaloniki,” since that refers to a specific position, whose holder at the stated date is known. There was, however, a John Komnenos Doukas who ruled Thessaloniki more than a century earlier—initially as a successor state “emperor,” but downgraded to the rank of despot after becoming a vassal of the Empire of Nicaea, during the Nicaean reconquest of the Byzantine Empire.

  4. Hmm. Maybe the vague “lord” would be a better translation, then.

  5. I think whether a translation is needed depends on what knowledge of the period one expects of the reader; in my experience, using the terms despot and despotate is quite usual in even popular historical treatments of the era, similar to how other historical titles like “dictator”, “tyrant”, or “pasha” are used despite their modern associations.

  6. Trond Engen says

    The history of the Palaiologoi is pretty confusing, and 1379 is one of the more confusing years. I gather that the 9-year-old later Ioannis VII Palaiologos was deposed (as a co-ruler to his father Andronikos) by his uncle Manuel and his grandfather Ioannis V in 1379. [Decades of dynastic intrigue] In 1403 Ioannis VII became the ruler of a de facto independent Thessaly, claiming the title of emperor. I see to ways that he could be the ioannis in question.

    1) If the record really is from 1379, Manuel may have sent young Ioannis with his entourage to despot Thessaloniki while he himself consolidated the rule in Constantinople.

    2) If the record is later and back-dating the tax exemption, the young Ioannis would have been a despot since the old Ioannis was an emperor.

  7. I think whether a translation is needed depends on what knowledge of the period one expects of the reader; in my experience, using the terms despot and despotate is quite usual in even popular historical treatments of the era, similar to how other historical titles like “dictator”, “tyrant”, or “pasha” are used despite their modern associations.

    Oh, I know my suggestion is purely theoretical, but when has impracticality or irrelevance ever stopped a blogger?

  8. John Cowan says

    despot … dictator, tyrant, pasha

    “Harsh names aren’t necessarily meaningful […]. I mean, when I was eight years old, one of my titles was already ‘Lord Master Disemboweler’. […] And at that age I hadn’t even witnessed more than a couple of executions.” —Pham Nuwen in Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

  9. Despotess

    Δέσποινα f (Déspoina) (Our Lady)

    I wonder if δεσποινίς/δεσποινίδα has the same dated flavour as eg fräulein.

  10. I did not see this coming, but recently, people have been naming male children ‘Despot’ over here in Serbia.
    I think I know three toddlers named Despot, which, I have to say, sounds a bit cringe to me. My initial reaction was, surely, that’s a title, not a name, right?! (And as far as I can tell this is not a revival of an old-timey name, but a wholly new thing.)

  11. That’s… very strange.

  12. I think I know three toddlers named Despot
    Isn’t that just calling the little buggers by what they really are?

  13. I think it’s inspired by Despot Stefan Lazarević and Despot Đurađ Branković, two medieval rulers from the short-lived Serbian Despotate period:

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    Surely “Despot” is no weirder as a given name than “Earl” (one of the 30 most popular names for US-born boys at the beginning of the 20th century and in the top 1000 until 2006). And there have been somewhat less dramatic vogues for “Duke” and “Prince” as names for baby boys, not to mention “Roy” and “Leroy” which hide their claim-of-title behind a protective layer of French.

    And then there’s Barron Trump, youngest child of the former president (and AFAIK the only presidential offspring in history to allegedly be fluent in a language of the former Yugoslavia), where “Barron” is at a minimum homophonous with “Baron.” Although it is widely claimed that his father has intermittently used “John Barron” as a pseudonym starting decades before that child’s birth, which may not be unrelated. Not sure if there’s a story as to why he picked that pseudonym originally.

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    I am amused to learn of the existence of an author whose name (AFAIK given-to-him-by-his-parents rather than assumed as a pen name) combines the surname Barron with the given name Laird. Sort of doubling down on the theme.

    Also a former pro basketball player named Earl Barron, Jr.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    There are about 400 Jarls born each year in Denmark.
    How many Earls in England? Is American Earl from Scandinavian?

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    @PlasticPaddy, a glance at wikipedia’s list of prominent individuals with the given name Earl doesn’t feature a lot of Scandinavian-looking surnames, although there are always ringers like the Norwegian-American Earl Warren (Gov. of California before becoming Chief Justice of the U.S.; surname apparently Anglicized from Varren). But in general it doesn’t seem like an ethnically-marked name in American use, although I guess it could conceivably have originally escaped from an ethnic niche (e.g. “Karen” is etymologically Scandinavian but by the time of its massive and since-diminished popularity as a name for newborn American girls it was not perceived as such).

    A decent number of the listed Earls born in mid-century or later who are prominent enough that I don’t have to click through to learn more about them are black (the great New York Knick Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, the late rapper Earl Simmons p/k/a DMX, Tiger Woods’ dad …), but I don’t personally have an impressionistic sense that the name shifted so far in its demographics to become perceived as marked-as-black as opposed to just eventually perceived as old-timey and out of style, the sort of thing where you don’t know anyone your own age (assuming you are of such-and-such age) with the name but a lot of people you know have an uncle by that name.

  18. The first name that comes to my mind is Earl Warren (1891–1974), but that figures, since as a boomer I grew up with the Warren Court.

    Edit: I see “boomer” is in the OED, with a first cite from 1976 (Toronto Star 24 Jan. (Canad. Suppl.) 4/3 The young always go through a period of rejecting the parent generation’s values and structures, and the boomers did it more completely than ever).

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    But hat, did you consciously think of Warren as an insufficiently-assimilated Scandinavian-American, just waiting to be inserted into a Lake Wobegon anecdote? Or was he as deracinated and ethnically-vague as the median “Anglo” Californian of his generation?

  20. J.W. Brewer says

    That’s interesting (if not antedated) that the oldest Boomers were pushing 30 before their cohort got the name. By modest contrast, the guy who stuck the name “Generation X” on my post-Boomer cohort (which I’m in the oldest year or three of, depending on who you ask to do the defining) did so in a book that came out the year I turned 26 although the guy (who is a goddam Boomer if you ask me, albeit on the younger end of that cohort) had previously floated the monicker in a magazine article 3 or 4 years previously.

  21. Lars Mathiesen says

    Those numbers are how many people with that name were alive on January 1 of each year. Jarl is not on the top-50 of newborn names from 2020, number 50 is Bjørn with 151 baby boys in 2020.

    There was a fairly well known actor named Jarl Friis Mikkelsen, but apart from him I don’t think I ever met a Jarl.

  22. But hat, did you consciously think of Warren as an insufficiently-assimilated Scandinavian-American, just waiting to be inserted into a Lake Wobegon anecdote? Or was he as deracinated and ethnically-vague as the median “Anglo” Californian of his generation?

    The latter.

  23. PlasticPaddy says

    Oops. Does that site count double names (type Jan-Frederik) separately? If not, from the numbers and what you say, the number of Jarls is stable because
    (1) a few Jarls are born (say 5-10) each year and approximately the same number (their grandfathers?) are dying
    (2) any day now, a shedload (Dan.. skedlade?) of ancient Jarls are going to die, leading to a collapse in the Danish Jarl population (until their daughters(-in-law) do the right thing)
    (3) We need to look at more years coz the number is not stable 😊

  24. Jen in Edinburgh says

    ‘Laird Barron’ looks like one of those names that mix the common Scottish habit of putting the mother’s or grandmother’s surname in as a middle name with the more American habit of using your middle name to distinguish you from your dad.

    (Except that wikipedia says he’s ‘Laird Samuel’, which is kind of the wrong way round. Never mind.)

  25. @J.W. Brewer: The OED has the full form baby boomers first appearing in 1963:*

    1963 Brattlebro (Vermont) Daily Reformer 28 Jan. 9/1 (heading) Baby boomers, grown up, storm ivy-covered walls.

    However, it nonetheless does look like baby boomer and boomer don’t really start to take off until the mid-1970s or early 1980s.

    * The quote is a little odd though. There can’t have been many “grown up” baby boomers in January, 1963. Indeed, if one follows Doonesbury and marks the beginning of the baby boom with those born on January 1, 1946,** no baby boomers would even be eighteen on the date of that article***—much less twenty-one, the voting age in most states at the time.

    ** Personally, I think true baby boomers start slightly later, delineated by a date of conception on or after V-E Day.

    *** If you’re curious, the Brattleboro Daily Reformer still exists, and unlike a lot of papers that get the content from national sources, the Reformer‘s Web site indicates that they still cover local news. One of their top stories right how is: “Feces mailed to Brattleboro town manager before resignation.”

  26. John Cowan says

    Is American Earl from Scandinavian?

    Well, earl is one of those words that is genetically English but semantically North Germanic.

  27. I think the given name Earl has more to do with the name Duke than it does with Scandinavia.

    Brett, I’m wondering whether the date of that Brattleboro Reformer article is wrong.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett: But seventeen-year-olds are the right age, more or less, to be “storming ivy-covered walls,” innit? Admitedly G.W. Bush, born ’46, did not transition from Andover to the Ivy League until ’64. And whether the real starting point should be 9 months from V-E Day or 9 months from V-J Day is a fight I don’t want to get involved in.

  29. As a data point, I myself went to college at seventeen (though I didn’t storm any walls — I was too busy studying math and physics).

  30. Nevermind. It’s actually from a syndicated column by a USC professor of education.

  31. You can see the same story in another paper (the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, Mon. Jan. 28, 1963, p. 11) here. As you will discover there, the subject was the coming wave of enrollments in the 1963-64 and 1964-65 academic years.

  32. I just remembered one of my favorite appearances of despot from my childhood, in the 1971 Tales From Muppetland version of “The Frog Prince.” (The title character is Robin, making his Muppet debut.) At 44:26, while the protagonist is trying to figure out the puzzle to defeat the evil witch, you can hear King Rupert II (voiced by Jim Henson) in the background, rambling on: “I have truly enjoyed my years as a scheming despot.” As a devoted Muppet fan, who had this story on a record when I was a kid, I listened to it often enough to have it practically memorized, even the king’s maundering in the background.

  33. J.W. Brewer says

    “Earl” is in line to be used for the fifth storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season that gets strong enough to be named, so it satisfies whatever the minimum criteria for name-cromulence used by the relevant authorities may be. There have been seven prior hurricanes and/or tropical storms named Earl, none of which reached the level of devastation/prominence necessary for the name to be retired from the rotation.

  34. I first met “baby boomer” c.1984 with the Trivial Pursuit “Baby Boomer edition”, which I saw in shops but never played. The “Genus Edition” sold in Ireland at the time was the British edition; dunno if the boomer edition was. I still think of the term as American; dunno how salient it is/was in the UK. Ireland’s baby boom was 20 years later.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    On further reflection it struck me that “despot” and derived terms seemed a natural fit for the specialized lexicon from which heavy-metal band names are generated by semi-random lexeme combinations. And sure enough after a little bit of googling I am am able to share this catchy little number by Despotic Ruin. They appear to be (or have been) Australian, which is interesting because often names of this form (Imperious Malevolence, of Brazilian origin, is my canonical example) are from non-Anglophone countries and have a certain ESL vibe, where someone not an L1 Anglophone was presumably combing through a thesaurus looking for synonyms for concepts that sounded tough or intimidating but without any sense of how to use any given lexeme idiomatically. I don’t know if Despotic Ruin has any fans in Serbia, though.

  36. perceived as marked-as-black as opposed to just eventually perceived as old-timey and out of style

    my understanding – which is definitely borne out by personal experience, but is i think also generally accepted – is that in the u.s. the whole family of title-as-(men’s)-first-name names (“earl”, “duke”, “general”, “king”, etc.) is most widely used in black communities, having been established there during the period (which is not as ended as some would like to believe) when white folks would almost never call a black person by their surname. that way, whte folks are given the choice between using the more respectful form of address or using an honorific anyway, with the only way out being to deliberately choose the least respectful modes (“you”, “boy”, etc.) and risk looking like an asshole to bystanders, or a hostile response from the person they’re speaking to.

    on white folks, those names (especially “earl”) are pretty strongly marked as southern. which is partly a proxy for english or ulster-scots/’scots-irish’ lineages*, and partly – i think – about a certain neo-confederate-linked nostalgia for the ideas of Natural Hierarchy congealed in european aristocratic titles. which is quite transparently what’s up with barron trump (grandchild of a klansman that he is).

    * which is why those names used to be pretty common in northern new england; as far as i can tell, they aren’t anymore.

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    To rozele’s point, the first four Americans with the given named “Earl” in wikipedia’s list (obviously not a statistically rigorous sample) are:

    Earl Abell (born 1892, white football player from Wisconsin)
    Earl Anderson (born 1919, white USMC general from West Virginia which is South-adjacent and Scotch-Irish-heavy but certainly not confederate)
    Earl Anthony (born 1938, white professional bowler from Tacoma, Wash. who was a legend in that field and huge celebrity in my childhood – known to people who had no idea who Earl Warren was)
    Earl Anzai (born 1941, Japanese-American -at least in paternal line – politician from Hawaii)

    and then further down the list the great black jazzman Earl Bostic (born 1913) comes a little bit before Earl Butz (1909-born white guy from Indiana whom I remember from childhood because he had to leave Pres. Ford’s cabinet after telling a racial joke, which ended up being less survivable than the anti-Catholic joke he’d told in a stage-Italian accent while serving in Pres. Nixon’s cabinet).

    On the other hand, while the timing doesn’t quite work for Anzai, there’s a claim on the internet that there are a whole cohort of Hawaii-born Japanese-American males a few years younger than him who are named Earl in honor of this interesting (but not the subject of his own wiki-article) Southern white dude who became a celebrity and hero to the Japanese-American population of Hawaii:

  38. There’s Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. He was named after his father, who was named for Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who was visiting Hawai‘i when he was born.

    John Wayne was nicknamed “Duke” as a kid, after his dog.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    It occurs to me that reputation-laundering (in which Britain, I am proud to say, leads the world) is very often a matter of despotting despots.

  40. After they’ve deposited their deposits.

  41. Two of the most famous “big band” leaders from the so-named period of American jazz were Duke Ellington and Count* Basie, but neither of those were their given names. Ellington’s “Duke” was a nickname from his youth, when he was apparently already known as a dapper dresser. Basie’s was more of an adopted stage name, possibly in conscious imitation of Ellington, who was a few years older. They were both prolific composers, both for bands and for the piano—which was the main instrument** for both of them. Nat King Cole was another piano-playing, big-band-leading African-American musician who was a big younger—although he is better known today for his vocal and trio work. In his case, the adopted nickname has a more obvious origin. After Gene Chandler’s*** top hit (cowritten by Earl Edwards—and that was his actual birth name) with the rather intentionally silly title character of the “Duke of Earl” became really bit, he decided to adopt the “Duke of Earl” moniker for himself.

    * Unlike many titles of nobility, “Count” does not seem to get much use as given name among English speakers. I’ve met more men forenamed “Graf” than “Count.”

    ** Besides name or nickname, instrument choices were heavily influenced by the cultural backgrounds that big band leaders came from. The three probably most prominent jazz clarinetists were Jewish: Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Artie Shaw. Presumably they were classically trained to please their mothers, then moved mostly over to jazz and swing when they were a little older.

    *** I’m running out of my allotment of permitted links without going to “durance vile,” so you can locate the remaining Wikipedia pages yourself.

  42. Wikipedia is not the place to look when you have a much larger, hence more representative, sample (about 400,000 tokens), of the given name Earl ~ Earle in Find a Grave (, which shows, for example, that the name was borne by about 135 males born before 1800. The family names of all of them appear to be of British English origin.

    You can vary the sample in any of a number of ways by entering a year at “Year Born,” clicking the drop menu to the right of that field, and picking the option that best suits your needs. At any time, you can change the year entered at “Year Born” and then, if you want to, pick a different option.

  43. Unlike many titles of nobility, “Count” does not seem to get much use as given name among English speakers.

    The wiki tells me ‘Count’ is not a term in English: use ‘Earl’. ‘Count’ is preserved as a) the wife of an Earl = ‘Countess’; b) in ‘County’.

    And if I think of uses of ‘Count’ in English (pulp) fiction, there’s usually a suggestion the character is foreign and sinister or untrustworthy. Count László de Almásy in ‘The English Patient’. Hungarian Count Rudolph Andrenyi in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

  44. J.W. Brewer says

    I am intrigued to learn from wikipedia that the birth name of the fine jazz pianist “Duke” Jordan (1922-2006) was Irving Sidney Jordan. Which is a pretty gosh-darn stereotypically Ashkenazic-American name for an American black man born that year.

    Duke J. eventually expatriated himself to Denmark, and there’s a Danish toponym (supposedly a raffish/boho sort of place back in the day) in the title of this number, which I played on the airwaves (he recorded it multiple times, so I can’t say this version was the most-played) with some regularity during my daytime jazz shifts in my long-ago college-radio-DJ career:

  45. >Duke Kahanamoku

    Was he the inspiration for a character in Doonesbury?

    Which I’m guessing some of you read in the original college paper version based on age and alma mater?

  46. there’s usually a suggestion the character is foreign and sinister or untrustworthy

    Also Count Olaf in “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and Count Fosco in “The Woman in White.” You should never count on a Count in an English novel.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    They’re not as bad as baronets, though.

    Also, you’ve got to hand it to Count Fosco: at least he appreciates Marian Halcombe properly (unlike the idiot hero.) Moreover, his eccentricity is positively English. I mean, mice

  48. If it has not already been done above, we should record here a well-known speculation that “the French title count was replaced by earl in English because of its embarrassing phonetic proximity to cunt. A word much played upon by Shakespeare.

  49. David Eddyshaw says

    In fact, this probably came about because of the profound ontological problems associated with the apparently simple notion of “counting”, that we were recently discussing in the “Nsibidi” thread: the correct English response to such embarrassments is (of course) to pretend that they never really happened.

  50. @AntC, Noetica: A claim that, “‘Count’ is not a term in English” and “was replaced by earl,” is absurd. It may have been abandoned as a title in the peerage of England, but it’s still a perfectly normal English word for a kind of noble. It certainly is not treated as a foreign term, even when describing non-Anglophone nobles: “Before becoming king, Hugh Capet was Count of Paris”—not “Comte.” Count is even used as a translation of some etymologically unrelated but precedentially equivalent foreign titles: “Count Helmuth von Moltke” for each of the three grafs.

  51. “Before becoming king, Hugh Capet was Count of Paris”

    You’ve had to go back over a thousand years. And still I’m not seeing this geezer as English: Paris is definitely foreign i’nnit. I see no evidence he set foot in England. And he seems to have done his fair share of being sinister and untrustworthy — entirely to be expected in those times.

    von Moltke the Elder in service with the Ottoman Empire AOT. The Younger commanded the German Army in WW I. Helmuth James Graf, I’ll grant you, seems to have been the right sort of chap. Still foreign.

    ‘Count’ is still a perfectly normal English word. Yes, signifying a foreigner, usually sinister or untrustworthy.

  52. @JWB thanks! I’m digging Roy Haynes laying down the groove, and his solo. Looks like he’s still alive — at 97(?)

  53. @AntC: Sure, “counts” are almost invariably foreigners, but that’s not what I was objecting to.

    “‘Count’” is not a term in English,” is just dead wrong.

  54. Stu Clayton says

    Nobody has adduced Count von Count (in German Graf Zahl). Clearly another ploy to deny him his due.

    # The Count has a personal cloud hovering over him, which is the possibility of the source of his thunder and lightning. Some residents have been disturbed by it in a few episodes. For example, it interrupted Kermit’s broadcast at the Three Little Pigs’ house, and the pigs were frightened by it, thinking rain would follow, and in episode 0974, he was counting at midnight, and as his punishment, the Amazing Mumford used magic to detach his cloud, therefore taking his thunder and lightning away until he understood. This episode was featured in a 1978 Sesame Street bedtime storybook titled “Who Stole the Count’s Thunder?” #

  55. “‘Count’” is not a term in English,” is just dead wrong.

    Quite. Just as Tsarina, Doge, Patriarch, and Pope are titles used in English.

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, there has been an English Pope …

    Just not for a while.

  57. PlasticPaddy says
  58. J.W. Brewer says

    @Ryan: The “Duke” character was not part of the cast of the embryonic/collegiate Doonesbury but was first introduced several years after Trudeau had received his B.A. and turned pro. He was pretty obviously modeled on Hunter S. Thompson (who had no connection to the relevant university) and (to quote wikipedia) “Raoul Duke is the partially fictionalized author surrogate character and sometimes pseudonym used by … Thompson as the main character and antihero for many of his works.”

    Trudeau as an undergraduate would have been familiar with the then-prominent campus figure Basil Duke Henning (1910-1990), who was Master of Saybrook College for many decades, but in general I don’t think he ever had any characters (certainly none successful enough to be recurrent) based on faculty or administrators other than the college-president character who was obviously modeled on Kingman Brewster. [EDITED TO ADD: and upon further review the “Rev. Scot Sloan” character, who disappeared from the strip fairly early on, but was in part modeled on the Rev. Wm. Sloan Coffin, who was the university’s chaplain from ’58 to ’75.]

  59. Oh, of course that’s Duke. I conflated a bunch of characters – Zonker’s surfing, MacArthur the Samoan and Duke. My Doonesbury is mostly from reading compilation books as a 14-year old.

  60. Basil Duke is an interesting sequence of names. For God, for country and…

  61. The fact that he was “Uncle” Duke is related to the fact that the character was alien to the original collegiate (whether Yale or Walden) millieu of Trudeau’s comics.

  62. ktschwarz says

    The Count trope in American literature, as seen in All the King’s Men:

    So my mother put me in a school in Connecticut and left me to go across the ocean. When she came back there was another man, who was tall and slender and wore white suits and smoked long thin cigars, and had a thin black mustache. He was the Count, and my mother was a Countess. The Count sat in the room with people and smiled a great deal and didn’t say much. People looked sideways at him, but he looked straight at them and smiled to show the whitest teeth in the world under the thin accurate black mustache. When nobody was there he played the piano all day, and then went out wearing black boots and tight white trousers and rode a horse and made it jump over gates and gallop along the beach till its sides were flecked with lather and were pumping fit to die. Then the Count came into the house and drank wis-kee and held a Persian cat on his knee and stroked it with a hand which was not big but which was so strong that he could make men frown when he shook hands with them. And once I saw four blue-black parallel marks on my mother’s upper right arm. “Mother,” I said, “look! What happened?”

    “Nothing,” she said, “I just hurt myself.” And she pulled the scarf down over her arm.

    (I’ve loved this book most of my life, but wow, that paragraph sounds heavily cliched now. At any rate that’s the Count’s entire appearance, he’s gone in the next two paragraphs.)

  63. J.W. Brewer says

    @ryan: I had always seen him referred to as Basil “Duke” Henning, and had assumed the “Duke” was a nickname parallel to that of Edward “Duke” Ellington. But more careful googling tends to suggest that it was his real middle name, conceivably his mother’s maiden name or other such family-tree surname. He was the namesake of the a capella singing group formally known until fairly recently (when they stopped being all-male) as the Duke’s Men. (As I understand it, they degendered the name by switching officially to their long-standing nickname “Da Doox,” which I think had probably started in the ’70s as a Happy Days / Sha Na Na ironic-greaser-revival thing but had then endured long past that milieu.)

    Henning’s wife Alison Peake Henning (who survived him by a considerable period, living until 2008) was supposedly (at least on occasion) jocularly referred to as “the Duchess.”

  64. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett, Uncle Duke was supposedly the uncle of perpetual Walden sophomore Zonker Harris. When I matriculated at Yale 13 years after Trudeau had graduated, there was an oral tradition that the real-life student on whom Zonker had supposedly been based had once lived in That Specific Entryway Right Over There, although no one seemed entirely sure about which floor. There was in those days no wikipedia or other online resource for fact-checking that sort of assertion, and if you look into it now the primary theory seems to be that Zonker did not have an identifiable Yale-specific prototype but was based on a Merry Prankster (and alum of San Jose State) whom Trudeau would have read about in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

  65. Once, in a Sunday cartoon, Mike Doonesbury had a chat with the real-life model for Zonker, who was then middle-aged with kids. IIRC Mike says, “I thought you were a composite, like the rest of us!” The name came from a Merry Prankster, but that’s all.

  66. Owlmirror says

    And then there’s Barron Trump, youngest child of the former president (and AFAIK the only presidential offspring in history to allegedly be fluent in a language of the former Yugoslavia), where “Barron” is at a minimum homophonous with “Baron.” Although it is widely claimed that his father has intermittently used “John Barron” as a pseudonym starting decades before that child’s birth, which may not be unrelated. Not sure if there’s a story as to why he picked that pseudonym originally.

    There’s also Barron’s, published by Dow Jones & Company.

    Given DJT’s obsession with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it would not surprise me if the newspaper name was the source of the pseudonym and/or the kid’s name.

  67. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think too many people (including but not limited to DJT) know who the historical “Barron” behind Barron’s was, any more than they know who the specific Dow and Jones behind the DJIA were, but that’s certainly a plausible connection and it was certainly one I’d thought about before editing my post down to manageable length and non-digressiveness.

  68. David Marjanović says

    the source of the pseudonym and/or the kid’s name

    The most parsimonious hypothesis is that he named the kid after the pseudonym – so he has two sons named after himself, a stroke of extremely stable genius – and the pseudonym after the newspaper’s mythical founder.

  69. My off-again, on-again congressman when I lived in Indiana was Baron Hill. Funnily enough, he is the only Democratic member of Congress that I have a clear memory of meeting. There are a bunch of Republicans I remember, and I must have met other Democrats, but I don’t seem to recall any.

  70. Lars Mathiesen says
  71. They were both prolific composers, both for bands and for the piano—which was the main instrument** for both of them
    Well, it has been said about the Duke that he played the piano, but that his real instrument was his band.

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