What's In a Name? Ask Mr. Leotard

You could call the first man to put a slice of beef between two pieces of toast a genius. You could also call him a Sandwich — the fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu.

Naturally, Lord Sandwich was from the British upper crust, and now his family aspires to be fast-food kings.

Two of the earl's descendants — the 11th Earl of Sandwich, also John Montagu, and his son, Orlando — are cashing in on the family's noble name, opening a lunchtime delivery service for London's business district with $2 million in backing from Planet Hollywood honcho Robert Earl.

Gastronomic Immortality

The 18th-century earl gained gastronomic immortality during a nonstop 24-hour gambling session, when he refused to leave the gaming table. "He ordered his servants to bring him this concoction," says Laura Lee, author of The Name's Familiar II (Pelican Publishing).

"It was certainly strange in Sandwich's time to eat with your hands. But for his day, he was like one of those computer geeks of today who have made millions and can afford to be a nonconformist."

Lee certainly documents the lives of nonconformists in her book, which offers biographies of the real-life folks such as Chef Boyardee and Barbie Handler, the daughter of a Matell executive whose name was immortalized by a boob-heavy doll.

Sometimes being an innovator isn't as rewarding as it sounds. Henry Shrapnel, an 18th-century British officer who invented a type of shell that would explode upon impact into deadly metal fragments, might have wanted a different claim at fame.

If You've Got It, Flaunt It

And then there's the story of a decidedly vain French acrobat who was really proud of how he looked in tight, tight tights. His name was Jules Leotard.

Leotard was a trapeze artist in the mid-1800s, the first to turn a somersault in midair. But he knew what people really wanted to see. And he was happy to give them everything but the Full Monty.

Talk about daring: According to his memoirs, the man who inspired the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" gave his protégés this advice: "Put on a more natural garb that does not hide your best features."

Lee says many common phrases stem from real-life names. "Maybe there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny, but there really was a James Bond and an Eleanor Rigby," she says.

"But if you heard the whole story behind the pop culture icons you love, you might feel differently about them."

Click here for a little walk through namesake history, compliments of Lee's research.

How right she is.

When trouble comes, who do you call? Bond. James Bond.

And who was he? A mild-mannered Philadelphia ornithologist.

Author Ian Fleming saw a news item about Bond's bird-watching manual in the newspaper. "It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed," Fleming wrote.

Thus, 007 was granted his license to kill, even though the real Bond never shot anything more deadly than a camera.

Years later, Bond's wife, Mary, wrote Fleming with a tongue-in-cheek threat to sue him for defamation.

"I must confess that your husband has every reason to sue me," the author replied. "In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit."

A Batty Lawyer's Fame

To be sure, once pop culture adopts your name, it is no longer yours alone. And that can be a mixed blessing. Descendants of Joseph Guillotine petitioned the French government to change the name of the execution device that bears the family name.

But the French refused, so instead the Guillotines were forced to change their own name.

And how would it feel to be the children of Fitzherbert Batty? He was a Jamaican lawyer who was declared insane in 1839. It could drive you crazy just being Batty — or Mrs. Batty.

In the end, fate is capricious, and so is history's haphazard system of naming things. Charles Rushmore didn't discover the mountain that bears one of our country's most famous monuments. He wasn't a sculptor or even a philanthropist. He was a tourist in the Dakotas who asked his guide what a local range was called.

"It never had a name," the guide said. "But from now on, we will call the damn thing Rushmore."

P.S. How is this for a lofty ambition: Henry Jay Heimlich, the inventor of that life-saving maneuver, wanted to do a lot more than dislodge linguini from your throat.

"My ultimate goal," he told Who's Who in America, "is to … promote well-being for the largest number of people by establishing a philosophy that will eliminate war."

Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.

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