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 1 What’s in a Name? Over the years, all members of the Chinn family of Mercer County, Kentucky—George Morgan Chinn and his forebears— endured their share of teasing, being called “Chinn Ups,” “Chinny-Chin-Chinns,” and (in the colonel’s case, because of his weight) “Double-Chinn.”1 The original family name was des Chynn, of French Huguenot derivation. When the family arrived in Mercer County, they immediately became aware of the ill will in the area between the English and various Indian tribes. With the latter receiving strong support from the French, war loomed many times between these two adversaries. “It was better to change the name [of the family] when moving to an English settlement. It was a lot quicker,” the colonel frequently said, “than trying to explain that a French Huguenot was a Protestant refugee.”2 The des Chynns, then, changed their name in the eighteenth century for the same reason Germans in the United States changed theirs during World War I: to protect themselves from the prejudice and hostility of other nationalities.3 Years later, when Chinn was in the Orient, he remarked, “‘Chinn’ must be ‘Smith’ in Chinese, there were so many of them. Turn a corner in Korea, there’s a Chinn; go down a new street in the U.S., there’s a Smith.”4 He joked about owning an interest in a Chinese laundry. While in Vietnam George discovered that le chien in French-speaking Vietnam meant “dog.” Many times adults laughed when introduced to Lieutenant Kentucky Maverick 16 Colonel Chinn, while children frequently shied away from him, believing themselves to be in imminent danger from an ill-tempered canine. Military writer George Kontis’s first impression of Chinn was that “he must be Chinese.” A “big guy,” he “looked like a retired Sumo wrestler.”5 The des Chynns were not the only family to change their name when they came to the Big Settlement area. Many others of French background, or even with names that sounded French, did likewise. Also, some families’ names were changed simply because of clerks mishearing the name and writing it down wrong. Chinn illustrated this point with two examples. When one family left North Carolina, Chinn said, its name was Ishamerial. In time, this name was written by a clerk or clerks as Ishmeal. Then, finally, as Chinn describes it, the family came to Harrodsburg, by which time the name had been changed to Isham. With perhaps the unintended help of county clerks, the family name ultimately became Isom.6 From Ishamerial in North Carolina to Isom in Kentucky was a name-changing path of the kind many settlers experienced. If the citizens of a community found someone who could read and write, they made him a clerk. In due time, the clerk became the most important man in the village, in fact, a “tsar.” If he miswrote the name of a land claimant, that misspelling continued well into the future, perhaps forever. If a contemporary claimant did not use the name that appeared on claims, or was not able to document how his name had changed over the years, he would not get the land. A prime example of such a name change was the case of Abraham Linchorn, who happened to be President Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather. Linchorn was the way the county clerk heard the name, and that’s the way he wrote it. Even in modern times, if you want to inherit that property, “you’d better be a Linchorn” as well as a Lincoln.7 Another way for a family name to change, or even be discontinued , was to be “daughtered out.” Although families “never What’s in a Name? 17 die,” George asserted, on rare occasions, a family has only daughters and when they marry they do, of course, take on the names of their husbands. George claimed that for ninety-two years, the Chinn family had sired only sons, ensuring that the family name would continue in perpetuity. Yet George M. Chinn and his wife, Haldon, raised only one daughter, Ann (Anna). In time Anna married a man named Howells, and they had three children: Ann Howells, Ruth Howells, and Howard (Buddy) Howells II. Thus, from George Morgan Chinn’s perspective as maternal grandfather, this particular faction of the family would not carry on the family name.8 George came from a long line of Methodists but became a Presbyterian when he married Haldon. Asked by a...


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