Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shades of Gray

“Are you the real John Gray?”

I get asked that by a lot of people. I always assure them I am. I add that my wife is not from Venus; she’s from Iowa.

I have the second-most common first name and the sixty-ninth most common surname in America. An Internet search for “John Gray” turns up at least 76,000 results. Even Googling my whole name, John Clinton Gray, turns up matches. Wikipedia thinks the most famous one was born in1843: a John Clinton Gray who served as a New York Court of Appeals judge from 1888 until 1913. Then pneumonia got him.

I was named after both my grandfathers. Had I been born last week I might be called Noah Mason Gray or Jacob Justin Gray, so to me, my more traditional monikers are just fine. I’ve worn them a long time, after all. They’re well broken in, comfortable. “John” derives from a Hebrew root meaning “God is gracious” and “Clinton” refers to a “town on a hill” in Old English. It’s amazing, but I actually live in a town on a hill, and if it weren’t for the grace of God I probably wouldn’t be here. So, I think my prescient parents got my name just right.

Except, well… there are so many of us…

John Grays alive today include a television news anchor in Albany, New York; a mayor of Greenland, Arkansas; a Canadian ice hockey player; an English cricketer; and a fugitive from the law in Trinidad, Texas.

In addition to the judge, among dead John Grays are an English poet and priest; the first practitioner of homeopathy in the United States; an Aussie rules footballer; a U.S. Civil War Medal of Honor recipient; the founder of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Scotland; and the first president of Ford Motor Company. There was also a chemistry professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, my grandfather.

Hey, it could be worse. The most common male name in the country is James Smith. Search that, and up come 460,000 results. So, being one of 76,000 isn’t that bad. After all, I am the real one.

John Clinton Gray
February 4, 2013