UMMC employees enjoy perks, quirks of shared celebrity monikers
By Gary Pettus
The last time Mohammad Ali took a jab at someone, he used a needle.
The last time Tanya Tucker put out a record, it was protected by HIPPA.
The last time Jimmy Stewart heard he had died, he still hadn’t.
Dr. Mohammad Ali, Tanya Tucker, R.N., and Dr. Jimmy Stewart Jr. are among more than two dozen UMMC employees whose phone conversations with strangers often start with, “No, this isn’t a joke.”
Still, many remain philosophical about having to answer for whatever luster, or baggage, accompanies their names by association – or, as Stewart put it, “I’m not named after Genghis Khan or Adolf Hitler, so it could be worse.”
Much worse. In this case, Jimmy Stewart is also an American actor and beloved national icon, someone who’s liked, and missed, by many.
“I can remember turning on the car radio one day as I was leaving work and hearing, ‘Jimmy Stewart died today,’” said Stewart, program director of the Combined Internal Medicine/Pediatrics Residency Program.
“It was surreal. Later, a couple of people told me, ‘I heard you were dead.’”
Jimmy Stewart the doctor was 27 or so when Jimmy Stewart the actor died at age 89 on July 2, 1997, following an Academy Award-winning career as the star of such Hollywood classics as the Philadelphia Story, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Harvey and Vertigo.
In spite of the actor’s popularity, Stewart the doctor was really named for his father, who, he believes, was not intentionally named for the man who played the man who shot Liberty Valance. Jimmy Stewart Jr. did, however, grow up watching Jimmy Stewart movies on TV, including the Christmas favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.
When he feels so moved, he’ll even trot out his Jimmy Stewart-as-George Bailey impersonation or some other reference to Frank Capra’s wonderful masterpiece.
“But sadly, sometimes when I tell people my name, I’ll go, ‘You know, Zuzu’s petals,’ or ‘You’re just a mean old man, Mr. Potter,’ and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Fortunately, such pop-culture illiteracy did not afflict his instructors in medical school, Stewart said.
“I was on my surgery rotation my third year, when they usually ask you these hard questions, but one day they said, ‘Well, Stewart, how many Jimmy Stewart movies can you name?’
“After I had come up with five or six, we went around the room and ended up naming 12 or 15.”
While having a famous name comes with its perks, it also comes with its pressures, Stewart said.
“I believe it does change the way everybody perceives you.”
The perception is not always welcome. Take Dian Cannon, whose name, regardless of the spelling, sounds exactly like “Dyan Cannon,” the stage name for the co-star of Heaven Can Wait, Revenge of the Pink Panther and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
“When I used to work for the state of Alabama,” said Cannon, executive assistant in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, “I’d say on the phone, ‘This is Dian Cannon, public affairs,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, do you make all your affairs public?’
“Used to, years ago, when you could call Pizza Hut and order a pizza, I’d tell them my name and they’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, right.’ Now I just say, ‘This is Dian,’ or I give them my husband’s name.”
The spelling of Dr. Mohammad Ali’s first name also varies slightly from his famous namesake’s, but that doesn’t stop people from asking, “Do you want to box?”
“I’m not a huge boxing fan,” said Ali, 34, an interventional radiologist.
In Egypt, the country of Mohammad Ali’s forebears, his name is “like ‘John Smith’ over there,” he said. But in the United States, and across much of the globe, “Muhammad Ali” means only one thing: the former heavyweight champion of the world.
“One time, I called to make a reservation with my credit card and the person said, ‘Are you THE Muhammad Ali?’ and I said, ‘If I were, don’t you think my credit limit would be higher?’
“I get comments about my name almost every day. Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, I don’t even say my first name.”
All in all, though, he likes being Mohammad Ali, he said.
“A lot of people who come in here are really, really sick. But most of them still want to joke about my name. It’s fun. I’m used to it. It may make them a little happier.”
An introduction to Jackie Robinson has the same cheerful effect on people who recognize the name of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball Hall of Famer and first African-American to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th Century.
In contrast, UMMC’s Jackie Robinson was born almost 20 years after that historical breakthrough, was originally named Jacqueline and, most of all, is a woman.
“Jackie is my nickname,” said Jackie Robinson, 46, a housekeeping employee in environmental services. “My family started calling me Jackie when I was younger and it kind of stayed with me.
“The only thing I get when I tell people my name is, ‘Is Jackie Robinson your dad?’ I say, ‘No; he’s my granddad.’ They just laugh with me.”
Tanya Tucker gets some laughs, too, even though her first name is not exactly in tune with the renowned country music star’s.
For UMMC’s Tanya, the initial “a” sounds like the “o” in “John,” but it makes no difference.
“I tell people my name, and they say, ‘Do you sing?’” said Tucker, 35, a nurse case manager.
Yes, life as Tanya Tucker, R.N., has its ups and downs, she said. An up: “People remember my name.”
A down: “People remember my name. I can never be a fly on the wall.”
Mohammad Ali has feelings that are similarly mixed: “People never forget my name, but I’m not good with names. I’ll run into someone who remembers mine, but I can’t remember theirs. It’s embarrassing.”
But, surely Ali, Tucker, Cannon, Robinson and Stewart are not alone in that – not in the relatively small world of UMMC and not in the world at large.
“When I was a student at Mississippi College, I ran track with a guy named Jerry Lewis,” Stewart said. “He was quite funny, actually.”
UMMC staffers with celebrity names
Mohammad (Muhammad) Ali
Carol (Carroll) Baker
Patrick J. Buchanan
Dian (Dyan) Cannon
Betty (Bette) Davis
William (Bill) Gates
Rachel (Rachael) Ray