Famous Names

Michael Jordan drives a pickup truck littered with rubber fishing lures in all shapes and colors. During the summer, he rents boats and sells live bait out of a wooden shed situated along Lake Shenandoah through his side business, MJ’s Bait and Some Tackle.

He doesn’t play as much basketball as he did when he was younger.

(1/16/15) - (Harrisonburg) While he may not stand nearly as tall as the 6' 6'' basketball star of the same name, Harrisonburg's own Michael Jordan poses with a bulls jersey and basketball on Friday inside JMU's convocation center. Jordan retired recently after 33 years of service with JMU's food and dining services. (Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

(1/16/15) – (Harrisonburg)
While he may not stand nearly as tall as the 6′ 6” basketball star of the same name, Harrisonburg’s own Michael Jordan poses with a bulls jersey and basketball on Friday inside JMU’s convocation center. Jordan retired recently after 33 years of service with JMU’s food and dining services.
(Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

“Were you expecting someone taller?” Jordan asks as he reaches out a hand void of championship rings.

Michael Jordan of Harrisonburg first started hearing his name on television in his early 20s, when a young basketball player at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started making game-winning jump shots.

“He wasn’t what you would call a superstar in the beginning,” Jordan says. “I’d just hear his name sporadically and be like, `What’d they say? Was that my name?'”

As the basketball player’s fame grew, Jordan began to hear more and more of the same jokes.

“People would say, `I wish I had one percent of that empire,’ or `I expected somebody darker, taller, richer,'” Jordan recalls.

He says he doesn’t mind sharing a name with a man dubbed “the greatest basketball player of all time” by the NBA.

In fact, it’s one of his favorite conversation starters.

“My wife is actually from Hickory, North Carolina, and when I would go down and see her before we got married, it was a big conversation piece on Saturday afternoons,” Jordan admits.

“It got me a beer or two, here and there.”

For 33 years, up until his retirement two years ago, Jordan worked for James Madison University dining services, a job that required he walk around all day sporting a nametag.

“The kids would comment on it,” he says. “And being at JMU in receiving, I signed for a lot of stuff, so I signed invoices and signed `Michael Jordan’ and they’d laugh about that and say, `Give me your real name.’ ”

When he was younger, Jordan didn’t know anyone else with his name, but as he got older, he realized he isn’t alone.

“There are three other Michael Jordans on the same mailing route as me,” he says. “One’s a little kid, I’ll get cards from his grandparents and I just put it back in the mail.”

In Mount Crawford, there’s Jordan Farm.

“I’m not related to them at all, but the man who runs that is Michael Jordan, and they get my mail, too. I know because I get some mail that’s been opened and taped back shut.”

Jordan named his tackle shop “MJ’s” because he says it’s catchy and because his wife’s name is Jennifer, so it can also stand for Michael and Jennifer.

If you ask to see Jordan’s championship rings, he’ll just shake his head and laugh.

“I wish I had some championship rings, I’ll tell you that, yes ma’am,” he says.

Jon Stewart

In 2011, Jonathan Stewart was new to Harrisonburg and working on an album, so he went to perform at an open mic night at The Little Grill Collective.

He walked up to the microphone, expecting to hear his name announced, when announcer Chris Howdyshell started in on “The Daily Show” theme song.

“It was super embarrassing,” Stewart says. “That was probably the most public display of my name.”

Stewart, a theater management professor at JMU, has known about the other Jon Stewart since middle school.

“It got worse and worse and slowly started tapering off in the last year or two,” he says.

“Maybe people thought it was an original thing to say, but once he got popular, I think people figured it was something they didn’t have to bring up to me, but it still happens.”

The unintentional sharing of famous names is somewhat of a tradition in the Stewart family – his father’s name is Jimmy – but he has no plans to continue the custom.

“I don’t have any negative feelings about it, but I wouldn’t try to give my kid a famous name.”

Stewart studied Theater Performance at Seton Hill University, in Greensburg, Pa., and has always wanted to be a performer of some sort. He comes from a “family of funny people,” is a member of Friendly City Comedy, a sketch comedy group, and has been performing a one-man show based on Shel Silverstein’s “The Devil and Billy Markham” at venues along the East Coast.

“If I do become famous, it’s going to be an issue because he already has my name,” Stewart says. “I always joke that I’ll use his real name: Jonathan Leibowitz.”

Luckily, Stewart is a fan of The Daily Show host.

“I lucked out that he’s well liked, so people have a nice association with the name,” he says.

(1/19/15) - (Harrisonburg) Harrisonburg's own Jonathan Stewart, a theater management professor at James Madison University. (Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

(1/19/15) – (Harrisonburg)
Harrisonburg’s own Jonathan Stewart, a theater management professor at James Madison University.
(Jason Lenhart/Daily News-Record)

Most often, he’ll get a reaction when he meets somebody new.

He lived in Los Angeles for a while, and, once, when he called a bank with which he had an account, the person on the line seemed kind of excited and asked in the middle of the conversation if he was “the Jon Stewart.”

Stewart admits there are some positives to having the same name as a celebrity.

“It’s nice because people usually remember my name,” he says.

Stephen King

Being Stephen King has its perks.

While in Richmond for a conference, King was checking into his hotel when the lady at the counter said, “Oh, Stephen King! We don’t get many celebrities here.”

“So, I said, `Well, of course you can’t expect Stephen King to stay in a normal, plain old room.’ She said, `That’s a good point, I’ll put you on the club level, how about that?’ ” King recalls.

Another time, he was getting on a flight and the lady at the counter had a similar reaction, so King said, “Certainly you don’t expect Stephen King just to fly coach with all the common people?” She looked at her computer and said, “How about I put you in first class?”

“I said, `That should do it, if that’s the best you can do.’ ”

“I’ve kind of had fun with it,” King admits with a laugh.

King, Deputy County Administrator for Rockingham County, realized he had the same name as the famous author at age 14.

“The first book of his I read was when I was in high school was `Salem’s Lot,’ ” he says. “And I actually joined his book club.”

At his home, King has two full shelves of the author’s books in hardback.

“The name probably got me interested at first and then I realized I liked his books,” he says.

King is the youngest of seven children. His older siblings happened to be named after people from the Bible, so when his parents got to him, they decided to continue the theme.

“Why they chose Stephen, who was stoned to death, I don’t know,” he says. “I think they just liked the name.”

(1/16/15) - (Harrisonburg) Harrisonburg resident Stephen King poses with a collection of novels written by the somewhat better-known author by the same name. (Daily News-Record/Daniel Lin)

(1/16/15) – (Harrisonburg)
Harrisonburg resident Stephen King poses with a collection of novels written by the somewhat better-known author by the same name.
(Daily News-Record/Daniel Lin)

The common quip King hears is, “Have you written any good books lately?”

“When I’m paying the bills, they’ll see my credit card and say, “Oh, have you written any good books lately? Bet you’ve never heard that one before!’ ”

King says he’s a fan of the author on Facebook, not an obsessive one, just “interested and curious.”

Coincidentally, he’s never been to Maine, where two of the author’s three mansions are located.

“I’ve been to every state except for North Dakota and Maine,” he says. “I need to, we’ve talked about it, actually, not because of Stephen King, but if I go there I will definitely go by his house and get a picture in front.”

King says he’s kicked around the idea of writing a book of his own, but says he doesn’t think he has the ability.

“I’ve told my wife she should write a book: `Mary King the wife of Stephen King,’ which would be true.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 24, 2015, issue of The Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.

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