"So...what's up with that name?"

If you heard the name and laughed, EXCELLENT.  Relax, it doesn’t bother me.  It’s an unusual last name, especially in America.  Life is short, laughter is healthy, and we could all use a good belly laugh, don’t you think? 

I grew up having to explain this name to friends and strangers alike.  As an adult, most folks are too polite to ask, but I suspect most of you have the same questions:

  • “Doesn’t your name mean ‘butt’?” 
  • “Did you get picked on for that as a kid?” 
  • “Is it pronounced ‘toosh?’ 
  • “What should I call you?” 
  • “Is that really your name?”
  • From every teacher interview ever: “How are you going to handle having that name in the classroom?” 

The image above is from the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.  As you can see, the name really does have German origins.  The Tusch side of my family hails from Berlin. Believe it or not, there are people over there with the last name Tusch, and most of them aren’t relatives!  My grandfather, Eric Tusch, came over very early in the 20th century.  He fought in World War I – for Kaiser Wilhelm.  As he told the story with his thick and loveable accent, “I was a machine gunner in the war, and I never shot nobody in mine life.” (sic). After the war he was a baker on a merchant marine ship.  One Forth of July in the early 20s his ship docked in the Port of New York, one thing led to another, he eventually met my grandmother and….there you have it.  The Tusch Family begins.  

Does it really mean "fanfare"?

Yes, it most certainly does—a flourish of trumpets.  Sadly, the Grove doesn’t quite do it justice.  A real “Tusch” isn’t your typical “ta da!” type of fanfare.  In practice, it’s a cacophonous racket performed in tribute to someone.  The last time I saw it discussed in print was 2009, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic played it in tribute to their retiring conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen.  (I had the privilege of seeing Salonen conduct a few times and I’ve listened to quite a few of his recordings.  The tribute was well deserved.) *

My musical exploits over the years bear no resemblance to the great Salonen, but my dear mom (may she rest in peace) often used the word “cacophony”  to describe what it’s like to be around me.  In a sense, I suppose my last name fits.  

**The LA Times article asserts that the name is correctly pronounced “toosh,” as in “zoo.”  My family has always pronounced it with the “uh” vowel (unstressed neutral), as in “push.”  The former is onomatopoetic.  The latter is…us.  

A memorable name

You’d be amazed how handy the name has been over the years.  It even got me a job once.  

In the early 90s I found myself on the job market.  I applied to teach in the Weston, CT, Public Schools.  Over a decade before online applications were a thing in public schools, you had to snail-mail a packet with a typed application, transcripts, essays, and reference letters.  If you were smart, you waited a week, then called personnel to ensure it arrived. 

“Hello, Weston Public Schools.  How may I help you?” 

In my warmest and chipperest voice I replied, “Hello.  My name is John Tusch.  I sent in my packet a few days back and just wanted to make sure you received it.  Is it there, and is there anything else you need?”  

There was a pause.  A loooooong pause.  I could hear shuffling of papers, so I knew I wasn’t on hold.  

The lady replied, very quietly, “Oh.  YOU’RE the one.  I TOLD everyone it was real, but they didn’t believe me.”   Then, catching herself, she flustered, “Oh, no….I’m sorry…let me go and check…”  

I could NOT stop myself.  I cracked up.  Job hunting isn’t a lot of fun, so her transparent and honest reaction really tickled me.   She seemed a bit embarrassed, but I assured her I appreciated talking to someone who was so completely real.  After a few minutes, she confirmed that they had my packet, and she could see it “right on top of the pile.”  

I got the interview, and eventually, the job.  It was an amazing opportunity.  I worked in Weston for a decade, mentored by the renowned Doris Fiotakis, teaching music,  theatre, English, and the Gifted, and students between grades 6 and 12.  

Change my name? No way.

Every once in a while I get that question.  After all, if Prince could change his name to an unpronounceable symbol, why can’t I be “the dude formerly known as ___.” Right? 

When I was a kid dealing with the bullies, “Tusch” wasn’t exactly a ticket to overnight popularity.  I didn’t handle it well, either, so that made it worse.  And never, not even once, could anyone accuse me of being “cool.”  

But with age comes wisdom.  I love this name because of who it connects me to.  The people and the stories and the legacy are worth it.  

People who’ve carried this name are great parents with amazing families. They’re teachers, lawyers, business leaders, social workers, and entrepreneurs. They are community leaders.  They’re kind and generous.  They’re funny.  They’re strong.  And they’re my very best friends.  I was born into that connection.  

Plus, it’s fun having your name in a ZZ Top song and using it as your ringtone.  (“Oh lord take me downtown, I’m just looking for some _____.”)