My name is Dorothy: Women talk about life with the same moniker as ‘Oz’ heroine

08/18/2014 2:00 AM

08/17/2014 8:05 PM

They’re happy their name means “God’s gift,” but sharing it with the Wizard’s Dorothy is a mixed blessing.

No, these Dorothys don’t know Toto’s whereabouts, but thanks for asking! And yes, they are well aware when they’re “not in Kansas anymore.” Well aware.

We contacted Dorothys on both sides of the state line who say that for better or for worse, they never quite escape references to “The Wizard of Oz.” The classic 1939 movie celebrates its 75th anniversary this month.

Some hated the connection as children. Some embrace it now. But nearly all of our Dorothys say they were named for relatives, not for Dorothy Gale.

There are few young Dorothys. While Dorothy is one of the most common female names in America, the median age for women so named is 74, according to an analysis by statistician Nate Silver. Most are 63 and older.

Seems like a convergence, all those Dorothys born the year after the movie came out. But the movie didn’t make a giant splash in its debut, and by the time it gained national traction with the annual telecast in the late 1950s, “Dorothy” as a baby name was fading fast.

Only two out of 30 who answered our call for Dorothys say their families had Dorothy Gale in mind — not Judy Garland’s Dorothy but the one from L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books of the early 1900s.

Eighty-year-old Dorothy Keel of Kansas City, Kan., says her father loved Baum’s stories, thought Dorothy was “a brave little girl” and, after the movie came out, often sang “Over the Rainbow” to her.

Dorothy Holman, who is 100, says her mother loved books — and read the “Oz” stories to her and her seven siblings. Before she moved from California to Overland Park in 2008, Holman often visited her daughter here.

“My bridge pals would tease me about wearing my red shoes since I was going back to Kansas,” she says.

Sometimes a fictional character comes to own a name. Here’s how a few of our area Dorothys deal with the situation.

Not a fan

Dorothy Buerky, 67, who was named after a “spunky” aunt, has only seen the 1939 movie all the way through one time, and that was about 30 years ago.

“I’ve never been a big Judy Garland fan, so maybe that was it,” says Buerky, of Belton. “I remember the colors in the movie were really vibrant. I liked that.”

Buerky says her husband enjoys the film, but then he didn’t have to grow up with all the Dorothy jokes.

“It was ‘Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore,’ and ‘Where’s Toto?’ or ‘How’s the Wizard?’” she says. “I’ve only owned one pair of red shoes my whole life, and never sparkly ones. It would just draw more comments.”

Even making phone calls at work was a bit of an “Oz” hazard.

“As soon as you say, ‘Hello, this is Dorothy,’ and they know you’re calling from any place close to Kansas, it all starts,” she says.

Buerky says the cool names when she was young seemed to be Susie and Marilyn. But now she thinks of Dorothy as a pretty name with a nice meaning.

“Growing up it sounded like an old name,” she says. “I’ve grown to appreciate it.”

The only Dorothy

Following a Jewish tradition of naming children for deceased relatives, Dorothy Lambert, 40, was named in honor of a great-grandmother. She’s proud of that. Now.

But as a youngster on vacation trips in the 1980s, Lambert learned that tourist shops saw no sales potential in her first name.

“There weren’t any little license plates that said ‘Dorothy,’ none of those big pencils you can’t ever sharpen,” says Lambert, of Shawnee.

Until one day, she saw it: a big oven mitt personalized for a Dorothy. An oven mitt.

“I was so bummed,” she says. “That’s so depressing if you’re 8 years old.”

Lambert says she eventually grew into her name and even the “Oz” connection. An elementary-school reading teacher, Lambert has dressed up in a Dorothy costume for Halloween parties.

“Now I love my name,” she says. “At meetings, when everyone else is Jennifer, I’m the only Dorothy in the room.”

No place like home

In her late 20s, Dorothy Clopton moved away from the Kansas City area. It was when she planned a move from Seattle back to Kansas two decades later that “The Wizard of Oz” surfaced.

“The fact that my name was Dorothy and I was moving to Kansas was quite funny,” says Clopton, 58, of Lenexa. “And then they would ask, ‘Why would you move there?’”

Her mother’s name was Fredericka Dorothea, so Clopton counts herself lucky she scored her mom’s middle name instead of her first.

“And my mother went by Mickey, so go figure,” she says.

Clopton was in a sixth grade play of “The Wizard of Oz” but somehow was cast as the Cowardly Lion. Over the years, she has received “Oz”-themed gifts, including a ruby slipper trinket and a Dorothy doll.

An occupational therapist, Clopton works with preschoolers and with older adults in a skilled nursing facility. No Dorothys among the former. Quite a few among the latter.

“Kids sometimes go through phases where they don’t like their names,” she says. “I always liked mine. It was unusual, but it wasn’t weird.”

Dorothy, usually not Dot

Her rural school was about six miles west of Medicine Lodge in south central Kansas, and Dorothy C. Gaunt Reed was one of two first-graders.

“We were both named Dorothy,” she says. “My freshman year in high school, there were 30 students and three were Dorothy.”

Reed, 79, says she’s not sure how her parents picked the name, although she did have an aunt named Dorothy. In the summers of her high school years, she spent a lot of time with a good friend also named Dorothy. When they were together she was “Dot” and her friend was “Double Dot.”

All other times she was Dorothy, she says, except to her uncle: “He called me Speck, and he said it was short for Dot.”

Dorothy of Kansas

Touring Europe in 2002, Dorothy Kroenke visited an old manor house restaurant in Wales. The owners were a musical family that provided entertainment with the meal.

After dinner, Kroenke says, the father sang a traditional song about a king who fell in love with a farmer’s daughter. Kroenke was chosen to be serenaded as the daughter.

Afterward, the singer asked where she was from.

“Of course when people hear ‘Dorothy’ and ‘Kansas City,’ they immediately do a double take,” she says. “They just hear the Kansas part.”

But that’s OK with Kroenke, 77, who lives in Kansas City. She was born in Kansas and lived there until she was 22. In fact, she was a farmer’s daughter.

“The singer gave me an autographed copy of the family’s CD of songs with the note, ‘To the first Dorothy of Kansas I ever met.’”

It’s a twister

If you were looking for a Dorothy who survived a Kansas tornado (actually, we were!), here she is.

Dorothy Nye, 61, of Overland Park, grew up in Michigan and in 1973 moved to a farm in Paola, Kan., as a newlywed. In 1978, that put her in the path of the May 11 tornado.

Nye recalls how the weather changed on a hot, muggy day. She was home with her daughters, ages 7 months and 21 months.

The lights blinked twice in their 100-year-old house, and she headed outside to the cellar. That’s a “Wizard of Oz” moment for sure, except Nye had two little ones with her, and she made it to the cellar.

“I just sat on the floor, holding onto my kids,” she says. “They say you hear a sound like a train, but I didn’t hear a train. I just heard all the glass and stuff breaking. It was really scary.”

Nye’s husband rushed home, and everyone was safe, although it was a couple of days before they found some of their cows and their Australian shepherd, Duke. Outbuildings and an old red barn were destroyed.

Nye doesn’t watch tornado movies — “it hits too close to home” — but she makes an exception for “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I know that’s Hollywood,” Nye says. “I’m good with that.”

About being Dorothy from Kansas who survived a tornado?

“I got a lot of razzamatazz about that,” she says. “And always, ‘Where’s Toto?’”

To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send email to eeveld@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/eeveld.

THE WIZARD OF AUGUST

We’re celebrating this month’s 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” movie with a story a day.

Tuesday in FYI: What happened to the ruby slippers?

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