Sunday, February 24, 2008

Too Many Dinty Moores

I had planned to add another entry to the list of people unfortunate enough to qualify for membership in the “ha ha — this person’s name” club when Spencer explained his annoyance with the name of Dinty Moore, an author he had to read in his creative nonfiction class. Clearly, anyone who shares a name with a canned Hormel product has quite a burden to bear. However, the relationship is a bit more involved than I originally thought.

Ultimately, the name Dinty Moore originated in the long-running comic strip Bringing Up Father, known more commonly as Maggie and Jiggs. Creator George McManus included in the strip a tavern-owner character named Dinty Moore in honor of his real-life friend Peter Moore, who then apparently latched onto McManus’s coattails by legally changing his first name to “Dinty” and establishing a chain of restaurants called Dinty Moore’s sometime in the 1920s. (This real-life restaurateur Dinty Moore, however, did not become into the essayist Dinty Moore, however.) Later, in the 30s, Minneapolis meat retailer C.F. Witt and Sons registered the Dinty Moore name for a canned, cured meat product. (No clue how they pulled this off, seeing as how at least the main Dinty Moore restaurant in midtown Manhattan stayed operational until the 1970s and one would imagine that two different brands of Dinty Moore edibles would constitute some sort of trademark violation.) In 1935, Hormel Foods — current-day king of prefabricated meat-like substances and purveyor of Spam — bought the Dinty Moore name from Witt and slapped it on its own beef stew, a product which a 2001 New York Times article on the subject notes as having a reputation for an abnormally long shelf life. (The blog Memoirs of a Gouda describes it as “vile hatred in food form.”) Hormel continues to market the product today and even invented a cartoon lumberjack character — named, of course, Dinty Moore — to help in this effort, though he was eventually abandoned.

Now, to get back to the writer: He, quite simply, seems to have been named for the original comic strip character, according to his Wikipedia profile, though the fact that he wasn’t born until 1955 makes him the youngest of all the above Dinty Moores. I would think that his parents probably had awareness that the name was used in reference to people and things other than the original cartoon tavern owner. And what kind of a namesake is that, anyway? And for this latter Dinty Moore to have embarked upon a writing career, I feel, has probably resulted in more than a few comparisons between his prose style and the long-lives-but-ultimately-indigestible stew that shares his name.

In an entry at book blog Critical Mass, Dinty the writer himself comments on the strangeness of his name, saying that the original comic strip Dinty “was a wiry, mustachioed, cigar-smoking scoundrel in spats and a bowler hat who pulled the main character — Jiggs — away from his wife and daughter and off to visit the taverns. Dinty Moore represented every Irish-American stereotype of the time: buckets of beer, fatty corned beef, back room card games, coarse language, and unreliability.” Moore, whose further musings on names was apparently published in a summer 2007 issue of The Southern Review, also notes that though he’s been known as “Dinty” to all family and friends his entire life, his Christian name is “William,” because a priest refused to baptize him otherwise. He even attempted to write as Bill Moore for a period, but ultimately reverted back to “Dinty.”

Thus, while I’m halfway tempted to categorize this post under “Ha Ha — This Person’s Name Is Needlessly Complicated And, Ultimately, Fairly Silly,” I think I’ll just stick with the usual post tag. Although given that I’ve now listed six different Dinty Moores — the comic character, the restaurateur, the restaurant itself, the canned beef, the Hormel cartoon lumberjack, and the writer who initially inspired this post — I’m no longer sure whose name, exactly, I’m mocking. At the very least, the writer is the number one Google hit for a search of his name, so he at least has that.

And, you know, a writing career.

EDIT: There’s also apparently and F.W. “Dinty” Moore” Trophy awarded to the top goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League. And another Dinty Moore from Ventura served in the Navy during World War II.

Pop culture names, previously:


  1. Hey I knew Dinty Moore the Writer (TM) back in his days when he taught at Penn State Altoona and I taught at Penn State State Pen, er, State College.

    He's a really nice guy and excellent writer--although it probably reads dated already given how fast our internets age moves, The Emperor's Virtual Clothes is a delightful, clear-eyed look at the pioneer days of the web in 1995.

  2. Well, damn. That's a lot of Dintys.