I belong to an old family, the various spellings of the name revealing to which genealogical line we belong. Our ancestors came from Wiltshire to Massachusetts on 1638. The descendents of Edmund spell their name Goodenow or Goodnow and are mostly still found in New England. Another subgroup of this line spells their name Goodeno or Goodno. The descendents of Thomas, brother to Edmund, spell their name Goodenough or Goodnough and are found all over North America. In the case of my particular family, the ‘e’ was dropped by the children of my great-great-great grandfather Ebenezer. There is a Bob Goodenough in Michigan who is descended from Ebenezer’s brother Levi.
As can be imagined, each variation gives rise to jokes: Goodnow, bad later; Goodno, bad yes; Goodenough, bad enough. And that’s it, there is really only one joke that can be made about each name.
Nevertheless, it often happens when I meet someone for the first time, that he feels a compulsion to display the originality of his wit by making a wisecrack about my name. Now, it doesn’t make for a lasting friendship to inform my new acquaintance that this is the 1,723rd time that I’ve heard this particular joke and I’m all laughed out. It works better to smile politely and try to direct the conversation onto a different topic.
The same joke has probably been told as long as the name has existed. One theory is that the name began as a nickname for someone who was easily pleased.
There are a couple of examples from two centuries ago that rise above the jokes that I hear today. The first was occasioned by a sermon preached to the House of Lords in England by Samuel Goodenough, bishop of Carlisle, in 1809:
‘Tis well enough that Goodenough
To the Lords should preach;
But sure enough, full bad enough
Are those he has to teach.
The second dates from 1822, when Ira Cooper of Manchester, Vermont married Miss Betsey Goodenough of Hancock, Vermont. This poem has fun with both names, as the original meaning of Cooper is barrel maker.
Hoop poles with us are rather low,
And times we own are tough,
Since Coopers must to Hancock go
To get one Good-enough.