My middle name is Otto. John Otto Magee. An interesting combination. John is the most common name for a male. Otto is about as German as you can get. It was the first name of my mother’s father, Otto Hentz. And it is the first name of my uncle, Otto Hentz, a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Otto is also the first name of a cousin of mine, Otto Hentz. His middle name coincidentally is John. He is Otto John. I am John Otto. We are the only two of fifteen male cousins with the name Otto. And we were the last people to have visited with our grandmother, Martha Hentz (born Grogan), on the evening that she passed away in March of 1994, at the age of ninety-three, in Abington Hospital, on York Road in Abington, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.
Her husband, our grandfather, Otto, had died an untimely death in November of 1937, due to an automobile accident, at the age of thirty-eight, leaving our grandmother a widow with seven young children, the oldest nine, the youngest an infant, and pregnant with our Uncle Otto. She was thirty-six years of age. It was the height of the Great Depression.
I always loved my middle name. Otto. So distinct. John is straightforward, upright, clear, unambiguous, strong. Otto distinct, traditional, deep, rich, constant, present. Turn it around and it’s still Otto. Constant.
Magee is Scots-Irish. Frank Magee, my father. The English had wanted to populate Northern Ireland many generations ago. Scots migrated across the water. Magees were among them. Then, at the end of the 1900s, a Magee and his wife and their young children took a boat to the United States. Family legend has it that in New York Harbor he fell overboard. All those coins in his money-belt. He never came back up. See the photos of the overcrowded ships shuttling immigrants over to the New World.
Imagine the reaction of the children. They were put up for adoption. A few landed in upstate New York, the others in southern New Jersey, south of Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Two Magee boys made their way into Philadelphia in their late teens. One, Alexander, would have two sons, Frank and Ken. Frank would marry and have a son. My father.
Magee is an ethnic name. Not McGee or MacGee, instead Magee. For those familiar with names a clear indication of Scots-Irish Protestant and not Irish Catholic. And that he was, my father, until converting to Catholocism in 1952.
Magee, ethnic Scottish and Irish. Celtic. Ethnic was anything not old stock American. And old stock was Anglo or German. The British founded the colonies. There were thirteen of them. In today’s language the British were the elites, the establishment. The Germans were the other old stock group. Artisans, farmers, business people. Look at the ethnic makeup back then of the middle Atlantic colonies, later states, of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Germans. The United States is a very German country.
My maternal grandmother, Martha Hentz (born Grogan) was all Irish. Grogan and McBride. Born in 1900 and raised in Cincinnati, a Roman Catholic. Reserved, steady, constant, faithful, in her way a very strong human being.
John Otto Magee. Names. Scottish. Irish. German. Mostly Irish and German. More German than Irish. Ethnically and temperamentally. Born in February 1959 I’m sixty-two years old. I have lived and worked just about half of my life in Germany. And this is the story I wish to tell. My story. Of an American in Germany.