Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD a spelling Bee

JEAN SHEPHERD a spelling Bee


shep spelling bee photo

How do you write the name of the humorist, master of many media?








On occasion Jean Shepherd would express annoyance on his show that some people, who saw his name in print would think he was female. Sometimes he would get mail addressed to Ms, Miss, or Mrs. It’s said (and, based on numerous bits of circumstantial evidence I’ve discussed before, I believe it), that Shel Silverstein wrote the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue” kidding his best friend Jean.

People of all kinds have misspelled his name, including people writing for newspapers and magazines and on the internet.  A recent internet search displayed on the “dashboard” of my blog site reveals this double-doozie:  “gene shepards army stories,” Sometimes, in the same correspondence, they will give both a correct and incorrect spelling. Most recently a major television station misspelled it. His high school yearbook misspelled it. People trying to sell Shep stuff on ebay misspell it–even when they have the correct spelling literally in-hand:

A Christmas Story Book by Jean Shepard
Playboy July 1968 Jean Shepard Shel Silverstein Paul Newman interview fvf

One can frequently find a Playboy issues with a Shep story in it for sale on the listings of the country/western singer because of the mis-spelling. Her fans must find this somewhat of a shock. I’m such a poor speller myself that I used to feel sorry for these mis-spellers and contact them with a correction. I don’t do that any more. They can’t help it. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s in our jeans Genes genes.

Oh, yes, and on a few rare occasions, when seeking Shep on the country/western singer’s page on ebay, I’ve encountered some good Shepherd stuff–for example, the loud speaker brochure I bought:


isophase part 3

isophase part 4

isophase part 2


Written–and, I’d guess, illustrated

with line drawings by Shep. 




  1. Frank Reck says:

    Names can be funny things. Having grown up with the name Francis Reck (yes, it’s a homonym for wreck) I always sympathized with Shep on the whole being confused for a girl issue. Also, people see my last name and assume that nobody could possibly have a name like that so they pronounce it rack, reek, rick, rock or anything besides exactly how it looks or they assume it’s misspelled and try Beck or Peck. When I got to high school I threw in the towel and started going by Frank. In a similar vein, I have a cousin named Colm, which is an Irish name pronounced like column. He finally threw in the towel and changed it to Colum so that people would pronounce it correctly. I once heard a TV movie critic talking about Colm Meany who pronounced it comb. I was amused but also annoyed that he hadn’t bothered to find out the correct pronunciation.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Yes, names can be a problem. Most people leave the second n out of my last name–a minor problem. I did a post (that I can’t locate–no such category in my list) regarding the man who was auctioning his middle name–Jean–on ebay. His wife commented that, “If he wants to walk around with ‘Fool’ as his middle name, that’s his problem,” but, she said, “If someone changes his name to ‘Poophead,” he may decide it’s a little more important than he thought.” –Though I can’t locate the post–help, someone!–I did locate my printout of the news article about it.

  2. Steve says:

    I have uncovered many elusive pieces of Shepherd history by searching on all possible variations of Shep’s surname. For example, I located the official record of the marriage of The Old Man and Anne by searching on a variant of the name not enumerated in Gene’s original post. In this way, I discovered that Shep was conceived some months prior to the marriage of his parents, which I believe had ramifications rippling throughout the lives of both Jean Senior and Junior.

    • ebbergmann says:

      A very interesting fact. Although I’m always reluctant to psychoanalyze/interpret the meanings of information–as I seldom did in my EYF!–this is something that can’t disappear from one’s idea of what this might have meant regarding Shep. Can we know whether Shep himself was aware of this–and what it might or might not have meant to him?

      • Steve says:

        It is probably not possible to know whether Shep ever learned that he was conceived out of wedlock. However, my focus lies elsewhere. Given the mores of the times (early 1920s), the differences in age (Anne was years older than The Old Man) and the societal/parental pressures of the period, I think it is more likely than not that The Old Man and Anne “had” to get married. That is, if she had not gotten pregnant, the marriage (and even Shep himself, as we know him now) would not have occurred. The usually dyspeptic Old Man didn’t seem to be a particularly devoted husband or loving father. Indeed, as soon as Randy and Jean were in the Army and out of the Cleveland Street family home, The Old Man took up with a very much younger woman and left town for warmer climes. My conjecture is that the marital discord and family dysfunction to which the young Shep was exposed resulted in his later difficulty in establishing a lasting marriage or in relating to his own children (whose very existence he denied). Shep’s brother Randy did not fare much better. To expand even further, the contours and attitudes of Shep’s “art” — one that often took a jaundiced or skeptical view of the virtues and future of mankind — may have been greatly influenced by the extramarital coupling of two mismatched people in the spring of 1921.

      • Steve says:

        I meant to say “fall of 1920” in the last sentence of my prior comment.

  3. Steve says:

    Many of you may already know how Shep obtained his first name. As written in Gene’s EYF, “Shepherd was named Jean after his father, whose sister, so it is said, had admired the Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables and suggested that her baby brother be named Jean after the main character.” (EYF at 43.)

    And now for the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say).

    I recently came across an audio clip of an undated WOR radio broadcast, where Shep tells the story of how his father came to be named “Jean.” As with all things Shepherd, one must be wary of accepting it all as fact. But here it does seem to be at least consistent with the historical record.

    According to Shep, his father’s sixteen-year-old sister — “Aunt Glenn” — was in her “romantic period” at the time of the Old Man’s birth. She aggressively pushed for her new baby brother to be named “Jean,” after Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Les Miserables, the French historical novel first published in 1862. Shep’s real Aunt Glenn was in fact named “Glenna,” born in Kansas in December 1885. However, her name was frequently shortened to “Glenn.” And Shep Sr., Glenna’s younger brother, was in fact born in 1902, when Glenna would have been sixteen.

    According to Shep, his grandmother relented, and the baby boy was named according to Aunt Glenn’s wishes. However, as Shep explains, the original birth certificate read “Gene.” So young Aunt Glenn went down to the hospital to have it changed. Further according to Shep, the hospital called home to speak to Shep’s grandmother, who said her daughter was correct, and the certificate was changed to read “Jean.”

    Finally, records show Shep Jr.’s birth certificate apparently reads “Jean Kenneth Shepherd,” not “Jean Parker Shepherd”! Perhaps Shep folded into his father’s story the necessity to change the name on his own birth certificate? The name “Parker,” of course, was the surname of the family in “A Christmas Story.”

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