Somebody Else's Name | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Somebody Else's Name 

Exclusive Interviews with William Perry, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, and John Coleman

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When it comes to naming kids, some parents are well intentioned but unimaginative. Their kids wind up with glamorous show-biz names like Vanna, Farrah, Sylvester, and probably even Pee Wee.

Then there are parents who are, if not malicious child haters, at least dangerously lacking in foresight. They're people like Mr. and Mrs. Fardy who condemned their daughter to a difficult life by christening her Iletta.

Far outnumbering those two classes of parents, though, are responsible parents who want their children to blend with the other kids and not be forced to struggle through life under the onus of some clinker of a cognomen. They thoughtfully endow their children with ordinary, inconspicuous names like Mike, William, Bob, and John. Little do these parents imagine that those very undistinguished denominations might later be the very things that separate their children from the ordinary masses of humanity.

William Perry is one person whose parents could not have foreseen his fate. For three years now Perry, a manager at a Chicago insurance company, has regularly received phone calls at all hours of the day and night from giggling children, prank-playing men, and pleading women.

"I had a long-distance call one Sunday morning from a lady in Saint Louis," says Perry, who had the gap between his front teeth repaired during the Bears' Super Bowl season. "She wanted to talk to the Fridge. You could almost see her down on her knees saying, 'Please don't hang up on me, I'm such a fan. I just want to talk to you.'"

Perry, who is often called "Fridge" around the office, says the number of calls has only diminished by about half compared to the 1985-86 football season, despite the steeply declining professional fortunes of his famous namesake.

(Oddly, Perry works with a guy named Jim Thorpe who claims he too gets late-night phone calls for the long-deceased Olympic athlete and football standout whose name he bears but to whom he is not related.)

Robert Sherman of Palatine, a retired postal worker, has name-related problems that have occasionally caused him spiritual distress. It seems he has the same name and is in the same suburban phone book as Robert I. Sherman, the self-described "Constitution thumping" atheist whose crusade to purge religious symbols from public places has garnered him considerable publicity.

"In a way it's kind of embarrassing to me," says the soft-spoken ex-postman. "I try to be a good Christian."

It's hard to say whether the name confusion has also prompted his wife to be so ill-tempered and suspicious that she makes her husband hang up on a writer in midconversation.

Five-foot nine-inch attorney Mike Jordan has mixed feelings about his parents' choice. On the one hand, he's happy to bear the name of the two-time slam dunk champion and highest scorer in the National Basketball Association (Mike shoots a lot of hoop and is currently laid up from his fourth basketball-related knee operation); but the incessant kidding from friends, colleagues, and strangers does get annoying.

"I've actually had judges kid me about it from the bench," Jordan says. "You get comments like 'You don't look like Michael Jordan!' [Jordan, the barrister, is white.] Or they'll say 'You did great last night.' That will sometimes surprise me to the point that I have to stop and think 'Now, what did I do last night?'"

Judge Michael S. Jordan, before whom Mike Jordan has appeared more than once, is not the type to stoop to such low comedy, the attorney says.

Anyone looking for low comedy might want to hang around with John Coleman for a day or two. A 36-year-old Chicago "maintenance mechanic," the namesake of Channel Five's irrepressible meteorologist is often victimized by funsters who press him for weather predictions.

"I tell 'em it's going to be a nice day if it don't rain," says Coleman, proving himself an able adversary in such wars of wit.

Coleman is just one of more than 20 John Colemans in the Chicago phone book. The first John Coleman on the list has been getting the weatherman's phone calls "ever since I was a little girl," says his 18-year-old daughter. The calls, she says, come "sometimes frequently and sometimes once in a blue moon."

And then there's the Reverend John Coleman on the south side. He doesn't get the weatherman's calls, he gets calls for the Reverend Johnnie Colemon, a female minister whose affluence is-the-answer philosophy has made her one of the most popular preachers on the south side.

The Reverend John keeps the Reverend Johnnie's phone number near his phone to save callers the trouble of looking it up. Johnnie Mae Coleman just tells them she's not the preacher.

Twenty-three-year-old Jesse L. Jackson tells people, sure, he's the real Jesse L. Jackson, but not the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. As the only Jesse Jackson in the phone book he gets plenty of calls for the presidential candidate. Most callers are polite, he says, but some are "cranks."

"Some people--I don't know, maybe they're from Bridgeport or something--say 'Hey, let's give ol' J.J. a call,'" he says. He's reluctant to reveal the contents of those calls.

Bob Greene of the far southwest side hasn't suffered from having the same name as the newspaper columnist since about 1974. At that time a local radio commentator aired an editorial criticizing the then-youthful woolly-headed columnist for his lack of experience and professional maturity. He referred to Greene several times as "young Bob Greene," and for weeks after that the other Bob Greene was called "young Bob Greene" by waggish acquaintances.

The other Bob Greene says, frankly, he wishes his name were Mike Royko.

West-sider Wallace Davis, namesake of the imprisoned former west-side alderman, seems less than sanguine about his name as well. Obviously annoyed at a reporter who phones him out of the blue--as others no doubt have done before--he hangs up on him.

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