I have an announcement to make: I am changing my name to The Smiths.
On social media, given the brevity of space some platforms allow for bios, I’ve long used a simple line:
“If my family tree goes back to Napoleon, I’ll change my name to The Smiths.”
I’ve used this line for probably over a decade on Facebook. I’ve used it on my personal Instagram. Hell, maybe after this video, I’ll add it to the About section on YouTube. Speaking of, you can watch me relay the story there too…
Belle And Sebastian
The line actually stems from a lyric in a Belle And Sebastian song called “Family Tree” off their album Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant from the year 2000.
I love the name of this album, by the way.
I found an original UK pressing of the album on Jeepster Records well over a decade ago, and by the time I picked this up in the mid 2000s, it was already out of print. It’s since been reissued on both Matador — the band’s longtime US label — and Jeepster. In 2007, in 2014, and most recently in 2019.
Back to the story.
The actual line in the song “Family Tree” is this: If my family tree goes back to Napoleon, then I will change my name to Smith. I, of course, took some liberties with it, namely, adding a “The.”
What can I say? I’m a big fan of The Smiths!
The Lead Up
Imagine having the last name Fenstermaker as a kid. There are three reasons it was awful.
1 | The Spelling
No one can spell it. And it SUCKS to spell! It sucks even more to constantly be asked to spell it! Literally to this day, I’m bombarded by people asked me to spell it. And they want me to go SLOW. It’s a long last name, so I’ve probably spent about 4 months of my life spelling it out for people.
And then they have to have me repeat it, just to make sure they deciphered it accurately.
2 | The Names
Next, as a kid, you get called all sorts of names. Fuiesenmeyer. Frankenfurter. Farfignugen. Aaaaannd then there’s Firecrotch — What else would you expect a ginger to be called?
3 | The Writing
It’s also a pain in the ass to write — you know, back when handwriting was a thing. My hand cramps up just thinking of writing it out.
This right here is my 1986 maxi single for The Smiths’ song “Ask.” This is a US pressing split between Sire and Rough Trade.
I love the yellow, duo-tone style cover! I love the big bold red printing. Flip it over and you get more of the same. But the printing is blue — it just pops! Brilliant!
And the B side has two great tracks: “Cemetry Gates” and “Golden Lights.”
So, when I was 6 — this was actually IN 1986, the same year as The Smiths released that single — I was in the car with my dad and we were heading home from somewhere. I remember turning to my dad as he drove down the neighborhood road — this windy, twisty road — and I remember asking him what I thought was a truly brilliant question.
Dad, can we change our last name to Smith?
And he kinda chucked a little bit, and he said…
It broke my little heart.
And, so, forevermore, that is my one-line bio. If my family tree goes back to Napoleon, then I will change my name to The Smiths.
A few months back, we lost The Smiths’ bassist Andy Rourke. In the following post, I share my picks for the top 10 Andy Rourke bass lines from songs by the Smiths. Check that one out next.