So, what's with "Brons"?

"Brons" is my fannish name. It's pronounced like "nonce" not "bronze" and ends in an S sound, not a Z sound. Also, it's a full name, so I am either "Brons" or "Jim Burrows", but never "Brons Burrows", which is why I, back when I worked at DEC, I always preferred the TCP/IP form of my work address——to the DECnet form—BRONS::Burrows.

Okay, so that's what "Brons" is. Where did it come from and why do I use it? That's a long story. I'll try to keep it short...

My father was also named Jim Burrows, so when it came time to name me, he thought I should have an unusual name. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be named Jim. My mother thought I should be named after him. He came up with a made up name, Brons, spelled either "Brons" or "Bronce". They couldn't agree so they asked their best friends. She sided with my mother and he with my father, so I still had no name and was threatening to show up, when my Dad's friend, Bill, actually born "L. William", with next to no one knowing what the L stands for, realized how much he hated his unusual first name and defected to my mother's side. So I got my father's name, "James Lowell Burrows" (Jas L Burrows to the phone company, but that's another story).

About sixteen years later I made a tactical error. When I got my first bank account, I gave my name as "James L. Burrows" with no "jr", "II" or the like. After all, neither my birth certificate nor my baptismal record listed me as junior. The first time I tried to deposit a check from my father, who used a different bank, I realized my mistake. Never try to do business with someone who has exactly your name. No matter what we did, one of the banks rejected one of the signatures. Unfortunately, by this point, I had multiple bank accounts, a social security card, and my college admission all under our shared legal name and it was a mess to try to change.

When I got to Hiram College, things got worse. There was a professor there named James H. Barrows, whose very first published paper came out with his name misspelled as "Burrows". Dr. Barrows had been at Hiram for several years and had had several different post office boxes, so any mail for "James Barrows" or "James Burrows" went to him, regardless of the box number. This include love letters from my fiancee (not Selma—this was before we met) and such. Usually he would realize they were for someone else after he'd read all or part of them, and at least refrained from literary criticism, but I thought it would be more fun to open them myself, so I told people to write to me as just "Brons", and started getting my own mail.

Four or five years later, l rejoined NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association, and was one of three Jims. The others had nick names—"JimDoc" and "Gubbish"—but not everyone used them. After about three months of answering to their names, I announced that I would always answer to "Brons", but only sometimes to the ambiguous "Jim". Soon, everyone, including my wife was calling me "Brons". My mother even did it a couple of times, but couldn't do so without giggling and went back to "Jim" or "Jimmy" depending on which one she was currently not using for my father.

So, that's how I came to distinguish myself from other Jims and even other Jim Burrowses by using a name that my father made up, except...

Did he really make it up?

One day, while I was in college, I was reading a mythology text and came across the history of the story of the Fisher King, its derivation from the stories of the Rich Fisher, the Lamed King and Bran, the Blessed.

What particularly caught my attention was a Burgundian version of the tale. It seems that as the Matter of Britain evolved, it drew to it many older tales. Two of these were the Rich Fisher and the Lamed King. These gave rise to the tale of the Fisher King. In this version, the cure for the King and Kingdom is the finding of the Grail. The Grail, in turn, resembles Bran's magical cauldron and so the King acquires his name, becoming King Bran.

As the story, along with the whole Matter of Britain, travelled to France, the names drifted, so that just as Lug of the Longhand becomes Lancelot du Lac (incidentally swapping his name for his epithet), King Bran becomes King Bron. By the time the tale got to Burgundy, Bron had come Brons.

Since this was the first time I had ever encountered the name "Brons" used for anyone but me, the next time I went home to visit, I asked my father if he knew the story of the Fisher King. He didn't recall it, so I outlined it without giving the name of the King. He reminded me that his minor in college had been English literature, and said that he thought he'd read a few variants of the tale when he was in school. I told him that in Burgundy the Fisher's name was Brons, and asked if he might have gotten the name there. He said that he'd always thought that he'd made it up, but now that I suggested it, he could have been remembering from Medieval Literature.

So... Perhaps I was named after the Rich Fisher. I like to think so.

November 23, 1994