Frankenstein turns 200: What’s it like to bear the last name Frankenstein?

January 29, 2018

TULSA, Okla. — Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was published 200 years ago.

The classic piece of literature tackles this question: Should man possess the power to reanimate the dead?

In Oklahoma, there’s another Frankenstein tale, albeit nonfiction: What’s it like to bear the Frankenstein name?

Broken Arrow resident Wes Frankenstein, 57, indicated it’s a lot like the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue.”

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s a good analogy.”

Frankenstein was kidded so much during his childhood that he wondered what it would be like to have a “normal” name like Smith or Anderson. To ward off unwanted comments, he used to interrupt teachers during roll call and say, “Here!” before they could utter his name.

Halloween was the worst. Prank callers: Is the wolfman there? Who won the fight between Frankenstein’s monster and the wolfman?

“They would call and you would hear ‘It’s alive!’ in the background and all that crap,” he said, adding that he probably hasn’t had a listed phone number since he was a high school sophomore.

But being a Frankenstein made him tougher because he was forced to be protective of the family name.

“You just get tired of the class clowns,” he said. “They really rode it hard.”

Fistfights? “It never got that far because I would stand up and say, ‘Enough!’ ”

Don’t read this and jump to the conclusion that Wes needs your sympathy. He doesn’t. This is a man who, over time, became proud to be a Frankenstein.

The man, not the monster

Wes Frankenstein was born in Joplin, Missouri. He had an older sister — and his father had two daughters from a previous marriage. Girls, of course, can change their last name when they get married. But Wes, the only male child in his family, is a Frankenstein for life.

Wes’ father urged him to be proud of the name.

Easier said than done? Wes said his paternal grandfather moved to California when Wes’ father was a baby. The grandfather changed his name to Franklin and started over with a new family.

Wes’ family moved from Neosho, Missouri, to the Tulsa area when he was 7, the lure being a job for Dad at the Ford glass plant. Wes was an elementary-schooler at the time. He said his elementary school and junior high years were the worst for catching heck about his last name. Hey, where are the bolts in your neck?

“I have heard it all,” he said. “You can’t tell me something I haven’t heard.”

Remember Frankenberry cereal? Wes wouldn’t eat it. Frankenstein movies? “Those were a staple in our house when I was growing up,” he said. “We took pride in seeing Frankenstein come up on the TV. That was cool. But we were in the comforts of our own home, so we didn’t have anybody looking at us and laughing.”

Wes said he was in the eighth or ninth grade when the Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein” reached theaters. The fallout was brutal. Fellow students, and even teachers, borrowed lines from the movie and tossed them in Wes’ direction. Are you sure your name isn’t Fronk-en-steen? Is your brain Abby Normal?

Wes said he hasn’t watched “Young Frankenstein” and never will. “Because it makes fun of it,” he said. “ ‘Frankenstein’ the movie was big. That was awesome. But when they turned around and made slapstick comedy out of it — don’t want it, don’t need it, don’t want to hear it.”

Things started to change when Wes was a student at East Central High School. His last name generated an occasional double-take, but, for the most part, students seemed accepting. That paved the way for him to be proud to be a Frankenstein.

Wes wishes he would have had someone, in addition to his father, to consult about the name and everything that comes with it. He said his dad had a brother, R.J, a paratrooper who died in World War II. When Wes visits a family burial plot in Joplin on Memorial Day, he thinks about how it would have been nice to get insight from R.J. on how he handled being a Frankenstein. Wes is so “good” with the name now that he would love to have a statue of Frankenstein’s monster at the family plot, but cemetery rules (no above-ground markers) forbid it.

Frankenstein all the time

Wes isn’t just proud of his last name. He’s a proud dad. His daughter, Destiny, is a former college and professional softball player.

“Growing up, she didn’t have near the problems with it because I would talk to her,” he said. “I said, ‘If people start giving you crap about your name, you let me know.’ It never happened. And then Destiny was a hell of an athlete. She did her talking on the field. She was a really nice girl off the field. When you got her on the field, she was a monster.”

Destiny was the state Gatorade Player of the Year while at Broken Arrow High School. In four varsity seasons, her teams went 160-24 with two state championships and two runner-up finishes. She became an All-Big 12 player at Kansas and ranks among the top six players in program history in career home runs, single-season home runs, career runs scored, career walks and career stolen bases.

“I think it helped that I did play sports and I could be good at something, so I wasn’t just some kid walking down the hall with a crazy name,” Destiny said. “I was doing something with it, which is kind of how I thought of it, whether it was making good grades or playing sports.”

Destiny said she believes she had a better childhood experience with her name than her father because he prepared her for how to deal with people: If they make fun of you, don’t feel obliged to run your mouth. Just try to be a good person and a good example.

“I think maybe, too, just being a female, people aren’t going to dig at you too much,” she said. “Everybody was respectful at Broken Arrow. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that they thought I could beat them up, but I never beat anyone up. I was a softball player, and softball players have big muscles apparently.”

Destiny said she caught the most grief for her name from hecklers and people at ballparks when she was playing college softball. But, when playing pro softball for the New England Riptide, she said her jersey (actually a jersey-type T-shirt) was a big seller. Of course, it was. If you’re going to buy a sports jersey, do you want the one with “Johnson” on the back or “Frankenstein” on the back?

“That’s actually one of my proudest things,” she said. “How cool would it be to have your name on the back of a jersey and someone else is wearing it? I have always wondered if they are out there floating around out there.”

Destiny now is a married elementary school teacher at Lincoln Christian School. Before she got married, people suggested she keep her Frankenstein name and go the hyphenated route with two last names. As proud as she is of the name, she was glad to trade for a shorter one (King) when she got married.

Lovers of the horror genre should respect this: Destiny Frankenstein married Steven King, although he goes by his middle name, Austin. Namesake Stephen King is a superstar author who majors in scary tales.

The Kings have two children. Both have November birthdays.

“We were always worried that Destiny Frankenstein and Steven King were going to have a Halloween baby and that would just be the trifecta of all trifectas,” she said. “A lot of people were giving me grief for that. ‘You should have a Halloween baby.’ No, we are not having a Halloween baby.”

If you’re wondering, Destiny has never masqueraded as Frankenstein on Halloween. “Have you?” she asked her father. He shook his head “no.”

Said Destiny: “I’m a Frankenstein every day. I don’t need to be a Frankenstein on Halloween.”

Father and daughter are prone to remind people that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster.

Badge of pride

Wes said he wears the Frankenstein name like a badge now. He called it an awesome name.

He was asked what got him “over the hump.” He didn’t get all the way over the hump until the past 10 years, and it took a temporary move to the Pacific Northwest to get him there.

For career reasons, Wes and his family relocated to the Portland area in 2007. The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” is embraced there — and so were the Frankensteins.

Sure, there were some smart alecks out west, like the pharmacist who asked Wes’ wife, Teresa, if she was also going to be picking up anything for Igor.

But, for a better picture of what it was like in Portland, Teresa told this story: She said the family would go out to eat and Wes would submit his credit card for payment. When servers saw his name, they reacted like he was a rock star. They sometimes returned with a group of co-workers to ask if they could take a photo of Wes with his ID card.

Said Teresa, “This one girl, she said, ‘Oh my gosh. You don’t know how much I love Frankenstein.’ ... She pulls up her sleeve and she has a Frankenstein tattoo.”

Wes, because of kicked dog syndrome, had to adjust to the new normal. Initially, he was ready to be on the defensive when someone in Portland noticed his name. But he came to appreciate that people genuinely admired that he was a Frankenstein. He could afford to let his guard down.

The Frankensteins returned to Oklahoma in 2006. Things were different when they came back. The world had changed (matured?) around them. Pop culture/nerd culture had evolved into geek chic. It was heart emoji to be a Frankenstein.

“Things had to catch up,” Wes said. “And even adults now my own age, they act not standoff-ish, but they act more accepting. It’s, ‘Wow, really? That’s a cool name.’ But the kids, they are all about it. They love it.”

Speaking of love, Teresa loves to tell people she is the bride of Frankenstein. In elementary school, she once broke off a relationship because kids were making fun of a boyfriend’s name, and she didn’t want the hassle that came with the association. She said she has “obviously grown” since elementary school — and she tells Wes she must really love him if she is willing to be a Frankenstein.

There are perks that come with the name. She said she used to travel a lot and teach in front of large groups. People couldn’t wait to see who Teresa Frankenstein was. “And people always wanted my business card to prove that they actually met somebody with the last name Frankenstein.”

Wes wonders if there are more Frankensteins around the globe. When he travels, he checks to see if there are any Frankensteins listed in local phone books. Over the decades, many Frankensteins might have chosen the path of his paternal grandfather and opted for a name change.

Among travel stops was an Orlando resort with statues of Universal Studios’ classic monsters at a “theme” restaurant. Wes took pictures with the monsters, showed his driver’s license and got a discount on his meal.

Future travel? During the course of a recent interview, Wes discovered there’s a town named Frankenstein in the state where he was born. Before the interview concluded, Teresa used her mobile phone and ordered her husband a T-shirt from Frankenstein, Missouri.

“I want to go to that town, for sure,” said the man who is proud to be a Frankenstein. “That would be one place I would be flashing my license everywhere.”