Tatiana Ayazo /Rd.com, shutterstockThere’s a Japanese folk tale of a boy with a name so long that, after he falls into a lake, his parents can barely rescue him after all the time it takes witnesses to repeat the boy’s name. In another version of the story, the long-monikered child sustains a nasty bump on the head; by the time the information can be breathlessly repeated to his parents, the bump has already disappeared. An indulgently long name, the moral goes, can be a gift or a curse. But if you’re a savvy self-promoter in the age of Guinness World Records, it can also be your claim to fame.
Meet Hubert Wolfstern, Senior. Born in Germany in the early 1900s before spending most of his life as a typesetter in Philadelphia, Hubert is a man of many names. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records throughout most of the 1970s and ‘80s, Hubert Wolfstern is a man of the most names: 26 first names (one for every letter of the alphabet, from Adolph to Zeus), and a last name that lasts 666 letters long.
A name so long leaves lots of options for abbreviation. On official documents, like his Social Security card, Hubert went by the first 35 letter of his surname: Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, Sr (according to one 1964 report, the monstrous moniker once broke a life insurance company’s computer when it could not process his full name; his policy had to be painstakingly processed by hand instead). Elsewhere, you’d be likely to see him sign “Hubert B. Wolfe + 666, Sr.” But if you were really close to Hubert, you might be lucky enough to see him write out what he claims is his entire appellation, as he allegedly did on a 1963 Christmas card. Sincerely:
“Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffwelchevoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvorangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolfhunderttausendjahresvorandieerscheinenvonderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgenachtmittungsteinundsiebeniridiumelektrischmotorsgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraumaufdersuchennachbarschaftdersternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneuerassevonverstandigmenschlichkeitkonntefortpflanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurchtvorangreifenvorandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior.”
(Want to hear Microsoft Sam read it? It takes a full minute, but you could do a lot worse. The longest word in English takes three hours to recite.)
Hubert claimed his great-grandfather composed the last name personally in the 1800s because German Jews did not always use a second name. The surname tells a story, vaguely, of a wolf-killer who lived in a stone house and whose ancestors came to Earth 1,200,000 before the first men in a rocket ship fueled by light to seek a new planet for their peaceful, intelligent race.
Suspicious writers, though, seem to think Hubert may have manufactured his own name as a way to achieve some media attention—and achieve he did. Besides the aforementioned entries in the Guinness Book of Records (which no longer acknowledges “longest name” entries, perhaps to dissuade attention-seeking parents from setting their babies up for a life of ridicule), Hubert appeared in several nonfiction books, a handful of national print articles, and various TV specials. In 1952, TIME magazine reported on a typo made in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported that a “Hubert B. Wolfeschlegelsteinhasenbergerdorff” had registered to vote. Hubert wrote the Inquirer with a correction: the “u” in “hausen” had been left out.
Was Hubert a proud German fighting to preserve his ancestral roots, or was he a fame-seeking troll doing his best to prank the world before the age of the Internet? Hubert, now deceased, cannot tell us. But for a clue to the truth, we can look to his own words recorded in the Associated Press. “When somebody calls my name, I don’t have any trouble finding out who they mean,” Mr. Wolfe + 666, Sr. said. “I like to be unique. I don’t like being part of the common herd.”
Want a way to remember Hubert’s incredibly long name? These memory tricks will make sure you never forget anyone’s name again.