History of the name: Garance Alistair Drosehn

(and probably much much more than you ever wanted to know about it..)

Once upon a time...

Well, the first thing to realize is that my original name wasn't Garance. My parents named me "Gary Robert Drosehn". My father said that they considered naming me "Brooks", but decided against it because I'd probably be called things like "streams" and "rivers" in school, and that I'd end up hating the name. It turned out that by the time I was actually in school, one of the top baseball players of the day was Brooks Robinson, so I probably would have been quite happy with that name.

So, they named me "Gary", because it was a common-enough name, but it probably wouldn't be too common. Also, no one in the family was named "Gary", so that would avoid confusion at family picnics. (My father is "Fred Drosehn the 4th", and he really hated it when letters written to him would first be read by his grandfather or his father if the person writing the letter didn't include the "IV" as part of the address...). The middle name of "Robert" is after one of my uncles, who really is a pretty good guy. He helped his brothers and sisters a lot when they were growing up, and often thought of others before himself.

And as for my last name, it's from Germany. My great-grandfather came from a town in Germany called Aschersleben. If you're wondering how to pronounce my last name, just say it as "Dro-SEEN", and you'll have it right. My father was researching our family history in the early 1990's, and found out the name was really spelled "Drosihn", but the spelling was altered on the way thru immigration (it's still pronounced the same way, it just should have an "i" instead of an "e").

And then there was this joke...

So, how did I end up wanting to change my name? Well, really it started as a joke. While working one night with some of the other systems programmers, someone noticed that we tended to call each other by nicknames, except that everyone just called me Gary. So I said, "Well, actually, Gary is just a nickname, and my real name is Garance". I just made it up, based on names/nicknames like "Terrence/Terry" or "Lawrence/Larry". Everyone laughed, and it seemed likely everyone would soon forget about it.

Well, one of the guys did not forget. John S Fisher (who is now head of network support services) started calling me Garance all the time. And I mean, all the time -- he simply stopped referring to me as Gary. Initially this was funny, and then for awhile it was a bit irritating, and finally I just got used to it. A few years go by with JSF being the only one who kept calling me Garance.

...which slowly took on a life of it's own.

The first few years I worked at RPI, I was one of the people working on MTS. We (in the MTS community) were in the stage of using a computer-based discussion tool called "CONFER". Think of it as something like Usenet discussions, except that the discussions were much better at sticking to topics and debating real-world systems-programming design issues. The MTS community was a collection of sites running this operating system (Michigan Terminal System) on IBM 370-style mainframe computers.

Now, as luck would have it, among this group of people "Gary" was a relatively common name. One day a topic popped up where it just happened that three or four different guys with the name of "Gary" voiced their opinions . Each of those were long and detailed (for CONFER) responses, and each promoted a completely different solution to the topic in question.

Someone (I think it was Don Boettner of the University of Michigan) followed those three or four responses with a one-liner meant as a joke: "Well, I agree completely with Gary". That line would have meant completely different things depending on which "Gary" he claimd to be agreeing with. At that point, I decided to start using "Garance" as my name in all online discussions, just to reduce the confusion.

"Gary" was also fairly common in my real-world life, too. I'd be in some group talking, and someone would say something like "Gary did ...", and then we'd have to stop to make sure everyone knew which Gary was being talked about. So, eventually people started calling me "Garance" in real life, too.

Now, to come up with a middle name.

More time goes on. I had a friend who often called me "GRD" (which were my initials, after all...). This was probably reasonable, but for a variety of reasons that started to annoy me. It got so I really couldn't stand it if anyone referred to me as "GRD". So, the search for a new middle name was on. I didn't have anything against my uncle mind you, I just needed a middle name that did not start with the letter "R".

The first thing to decide was what the new initial should be. The obvious place to start was "A", and that actually works out pretty well. That gave me initials of "GAD", which is a name in it's own right. In the bible, one of the twelve sons of Israel is named "Gad", which means "Happy", "Lucky" or "Fortunate".

So, "A" seemed pretty promising, now I just had to pick a name to go with the initial. For reasons I don't know, I remember liking the name "Alan" as early as the second grade, even though I hadn't known anyone named Alan before then. I've also always liked the name Mona, even though I didn't actually know of anyone with that name until I was in my twenties (and actually, her name as "Ramona", but everyone called her Mona). Why have I liked these names? I have absolutely no idea.

So, some name related to Alan seemed like a good idea, but "Garance Alan" didn't sound right. I thought about it some more, and went with "Alistair", based on two different people. One was Alistair MacLean, who wrote a number of action-adventure historical-fiction books that I liked a lot when I was in high school. The other one was Alastair Sim, who was the actor who played Ebeneezer Scrooge in what I consider the definitive version of "A Christmas Carol" (I think that version was originally released with the title "Scrooge"). That version wasn't being played much at the time I was picking a name though, and I thought his first name was also spelled Alistair and not Alastair. I'm not sure which spelling I would have gone with for my own name if I had realized he was really Alastair Sim, but it probably still would have been Alistair.     (For more information on the actor Alistair Sim, see the very nicely detailed web page on Alastair Sim done by user foosie at bestweb.net, or the entries about him at Answers.Com and WikiPedia)

So, "Garance Alistair Drosehn" it was.

Might as well make it official.

By then I had been using "Garance" in various online contexts for a few years, and in all that time only two people had ever heard of it as a name (or even a word). One had listened to a band where the drummer's name was Garance, and someone else knew of another Garance (although I forgot what he worked at). I never met either one of those Garances, of course.

I decided to officially change my legal name. I think the main reason I went thru with it was just that it seemed like such a funny thing to do. I went to a lawyer, and after a few months of various legal announcements I ended up with official papers saying I was now "Garance Alistair Drosehn". On the very day I got those papers, I happened to run into John Fisher (who was working in a different department on campus at that time, so I didn't see him very often), and he said "Hi Gary". If I far as I know, he shouldn't have even known I was in the process of changing my name, never mind that the official papers had just arrived. And yet I'm pretty sure that was the first time he had called me "Gary" since the night of the original joke!

Some additional information, learned after it was official

Just about three weeks after those papers came thru, someone contacted me on one of the computer networks, asking me if I was named after some French actress. Uh, actress? Sigh. It turns out that there is a very famous female role in a major and classic French film ("Children of Paradise"), and in that movie the main woman character was called Garance. Arrg!! Well, I wasn't about to change my name once again, and later on someone else in France told me that it wasn't a common name, and that sometimes it was used as a man's name too. Still, in my own case I had just made up the name, and I keep wishing I had decided to spell it "Garrence", "Garence", or "Garrance" (all of which I had considered) instead of "Garance"!

So, I am not about to change my name again, but this is why I tend to include my middle name of "Alistair" in things like my .signature file. It's a pretty safe bet that there are no women named "Garance Alistair"!

Sometime around 1998 I exchanged messages with a helpful gentleman in France about this name, and he looked it up in one of his dictionaries. He told me that dictionary said "garance" is the name of a flower, and was also used as the name of a shade of red which is produced from the root of that flower. Interestingly enough, the French dictionary that he was using listed "garance" as a German word, although I've never seen it in a German dictionary. So, apparently I managed to end up with a German first name, even though I had just made the name up out of thin air.

I first wrote this web page back in 1996 (iirc), and over the years I continue to get emails from other people who are named Garance. So far they've all been women, even though the only "Garance"s I had even heard of before I changed my name were both guys. And now (in 2007), one of my cousins pointed out the web site of Garance Franke-Ruta, who has taken up the cause for "Garance"s everywhere. So you can find out some more about the name "Garance" at her web site, which is called: http://thegarance.com/ (yep!). She has also tracked down more information of where the word garance has been used over the course of history, which was interesting. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote about:

Garance is also a color, a kind of vibrant red known as rose madder (AKA "Laque de garance"), derived from the roots of the plant Rubia tinctorum (in the coffee family) that was grown for centuries in the Vaucluse area. The Garance dye was frequently used in the production of military uniforms. It gave the British Redcoats their bright red and was used by the French before the advent of modern military uniforms. Indeed, the French infantry were easily identified by their red slacks, and known as “les pantalons garance”.

In the French Revolutionary calendar (adopted in 1793 and used for 13 years), the 23rd of Brumaire (which matches the 13th of November) was named Garance. Here is another web page about that calendar.

So maybe I should start treating November 13th as some kind of special holiday for me!


Most of this web page was written up in 1997 and 1998, but it wasn't until now (in 2016!) that I found out most people pronounce "Garance" in a different way than I do. I guess this is not surprising, given that I made up my name without having any idea that the word already existed!

Since I started with the name of "Gary", I expected the first syllable to match that name. So when I say it, the "Gar-" rhymes with "Dare", and then the second syllable of "-ance" is pronounced the same as "Ents" (you know, the tree-shepherd beings of Fangorn forest as written about in "The Lord of the Rings"). So really I pronounce the second syllable as if it were spelled "-ence" instead of "-ance". And I put the emphasis on the first syllable of the word.

And even later on (in 2018), I found out that the way I pronounce the name is the "American English" way to pronounce it, so I'm not all that crazy after all. Or at least there is a YouTube video which matches how I say it: How to Pronounce garance. Remember that in my case I was just making up the pronounciation for a name which I was also just making up!

Minor aside: Back when I first started using this name, there was one graduate student here at RPI who kept pronouncing it the same way that most of the world pronounces it. At the time I thought he was just doing that to be funny, but I should have asked him if he pronounced it that way because he already knew of the word.

Historical meanings behind the names.

And if you're curious, it seems that the name "Alastair" comes from the Greek, meaning "Avenger". "Alistair" is either an alternate form of "Alastair", or some references say it comes from some Arabic word meaning "the bird" (and amusingly enough there had been a time when I had a nickname of "the eagle"...). Meanwhile, if I had stuck with "Alan", the books I've seen say that might come from a Celtic word meaning of "harmony or peace", or from a Gaelic word meaning "fair, handsome".

"Gary", my original name, is sometimes a variant of "Garvey", which is Anglo-Saxon for "Spearbearer or warrior". It can also be a variant of "Garret", coming from an Old French word for "To Watch", or from an Old Norse word meaning "Enclosure, field, or garden".

"Robert", my original middle name (which I do still use at times), comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means "bright, wise council".

And as to my initials, it also seems that the tribe of Israel which was named Gad (descendants of that son of Jacob, of course) became known for their military abilities. Thus "Gad" also came to mean "Warrior", although I didn't realize that at the time I picked it.

So, my various names could have me as a harmonious garden, fair, and wise council. Or it could mean I'm an avenging, spearbearing warrior (painted in some shade of red, perhaps).

So far I haven't found out the original meaning behind "Drosihn", although someone in Europe says it would have been a Slavic name from about the 14th century, based on it's spelling and pronunciation. The family history (back in Germany) indicates that they kept switching between "Drosihn" and "Trosihn", so maybe I should be looking to see what "Trosihn" might mean...

And to think, I made it all the way to college without giving my name a second thought (well, except that I had often thought that I wouldn't have minded being Fred Drosehn the 5th), and now I can write an entire essay on it!

Comments and suggestions on this web page can be sent to    drosehn@...   (home)
This page was originally written on MacOS using PageMill from Adobe.
Last updated using PageMill:  March 25/1998
A few minor changes made (using 'vi'):  June 6/2007
The section on pronounciation added:  April 22/2016