Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Achievements of the Flemings

On a recent flight from Vancouver to Chicago I sat next to the CEO of a London-based consulting firm. A Canadian woman with an advanced degree, she asked me the ethnicity of my surname. When she heard the term "Fleming", she responded: "so that is what you call yourselves."

While hardly the response I would have hoped for, it reflects a broad ignorance of both the name and national origin. Had she been able to first peruse some London bookshops, she may have come up with a better line. In 1930 a diligent genealogist by the name of John Arnold Fleming sought to remedy this gap in human understanding with his two volume book, "Flemish Influence in Britain".

The book attempts to explain the history of the Flemish diaspora in the British Isles. While the author was not an historian, his work was pioneering. Fleming pointed out that those with his surname - and similar constructions such as Flemyng, Flemming, Flanders, etc. -  derived their name from immigrants who arrived from the Low Countries.

A simple online search for New York, Chicago, London and elsewhere in the English-speaking world reveals hundreds (if not thousands) of individual listings for the name "Fleming". These individuals carry in their name proof of their origins, yet are not recognized as such. Below I point out a few of the more prominent "Flemings".

Impressive British Roots
Because the appellation "Fleming" is an English-language term, it is in England and Scotland where we find the first examples and the largest numbers.

Although almost by definition the forefathers of these "Flemings" were common immigrants, some rose to high status.

Richard Fleming - Bishop and Founder of Lincoln College, Oxford (1385-1431) 

Malcolm Fleming - 3rd Lord Fleming and Lord Chamberlain (and son-in-law) to King Kames IV of Scotland (1494-1547)

Mary Fleming - daughter of Malcolm and lady-in-Waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-158?)

Later generations of British Flemings have gone on to recognition that is truly global:

Alexander Fleming - scientist Nobel Prize winner, inventor of penicillin the world's first and most widely used antibiotic (1881-1955) 

Ian Fleming - author "James Bond" series (1908-1964) 

Matthew Fleming - Ian's nephew and Chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Assoc.(1964-)

Colin Fleming - Tennis player ranked 26th in the world ()

As well as too many Scottish (Bernard, Charlie, Derek, Greg, Jim & Jimmy), English (Craig, & Terry) and Irish (Curtis & Gary) footballers to mention!

Quintessential Americans
Americans have also had one 'footballer' - called soccer here - who was a Fleming (Tommy) but he was born in Scotland. However, the quintessential American sports of baseball, basketball and American football have also seen Fleming athletes and Olympians. Beyond sports, Flemings have also earned a World War II Medal of Honor and a Miss America award. 

Captain Richard E. Fleming - Medal of Honor Recipient (1917-1942)    

Don Fleming - NFL Cleveland Browns Defensive Back (1937-1963)

Vern Fleming - Olympian and NBA point guard (1962-)

Dave Fleming - MLB pitcher for the Seattle Mariners (1969-)

Nancy Fleming - Ms America 1961 (1942- )  

Peggy Fleming - Olympic Gold Medal ice skater (1948-)

Lest others think this is not a melting pot, even a Native American mayor and an African-American politician carry the name...

Elaine Fleming - Native American mayor (?-present)  

Erik R. Fleming - African-American representative (1965-)  

Anglo-Saxon Notables
It was not just in the U.S. that Flemings in the diaspora made their mark. Throughout the Commonwealth - Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - Flemings have left a mark. In case you're wondering why Flemings seem to gravitate toward cricket, it might be because it was invented by Flemings!

Reg Fleming - a Canadian NHL player for American and Canadian hockey teams (1936-2009)

Donald Fleming, MP - Canadian member of Parliament for 17 years (1905-1986)  

Damien Fleming - Top Australian cricketeer known as "Flemo" (1970-)

Stephen Fleming - Captain of the New Zealand national cricket team (1973-)

Osbourne Fleming - Chief Minister of Anguilla (1940-)

Beyond the Commonwealth
The "Fleming" diaspora - like that of the broader diaspora of those of us with other Flemish surnames - has never been limited to the English-speaking world. Prominent "Flemings" have surfaced in Scandinavia, Latin America, and continental Europe.

Hendryk Fleming - Late 13th century Polish bishop (?-1300) 

Louis-Constant Fleming - French UMP Senator for Saint Martin near Anguilla (1946-)  

Rudymar Fleming - Venezuelan Silver Medalist in Judo at 2003 Pan-American Games (1980-)

Kieran Fleming - Irish Republican fighter who died fighting the British (1959-1984)

Surprisingly, neither of the Fleming historians (D.F. and Katherine) seemed interested in researching the Flemings. 

The above is only a snippet of what the Flemings, Flemmings, Flemyngs, Flanders, and similarly named have accomplished. If you are interested in a deeper dive, check out John Arnold Fleming's book - or look them up on Wikipedia

Copyright 2014 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted without my express, written, consent.