Thursday, June 4, 2009

From Gasquette to Gasket, with a stop in Glascow

Many Namers have written to ask, "Hedley, your last name, Gasket, is certainly unusual. Where does it come from?" Let me explain. The origin, as determined by a lengthy (and rather expensive) investigation conducted in the mid-1970s, appears to be rooted in the Provence region of France. At that time, however, the spelling was Gasquette (varieties: Gasquet, Gasqué, Gasquer). At some point in the Renaissance Period, the Gasquettes left Provence, reportedly over a dispute between Michel Gasquette, the leader of the family, and others in his town over the correct names of certain flora. Michel, known as an educated and intelligent man, was undoubtedly right, and the others resented this.
One branch of the Gasquettes ended up across the Channel in Glascow, where the surname would eventually become Gasket. Well, actually, O'Gasket, due to a strange misunderstanding by certain Glaswegians who took the foreign accent of the arriving Gasquettes to be Irish, not French. The name would take on its present form only after the arrival of Oliver O'Gasket, who very much resented his childhood nickname of "Oh-Oh Gasket."
That was but one of Oliver Gasket's significant contributions to history, however. Oliver, a mechanically adept individual, found himself working in the shops of James Watt, and helped the famous engineer redesign the Newcomen steam engine as a far more efficient machine. It's said, in fact, that it was Gasket who suggested cooling used steam in a separate condenser, though Watt would later claim credit for this.
Regardless, my relative is known for helping Watt solve the perplexing problem of steam escaping from the various places where metals joined, regardless of how tightly they were bolted together. Oliver determined that the problem was caused by temperature-related expansion and contraction, and could be solved by the introduction of a malleable material -- in this case, compressed rags -- between the metal surfaces. As so was born the gasket.
Gasket and Watt had many differences, both being forceful, creative types. Yet between arguments they remained cordial to each other, and were even known to enjoy regular variations of the following exchange:

Watt, noticing steam engine is leaking: Oh Oh!
Gasket: What?
Watt: What?
Gasket: You called me.
Watt: No, you called me.

This is said to have sometimes continued for hours.
Later generations of Gaskets may not have achieved the distinction of Oliver, but have continued to bear the name with pride, and even, in recent decades, to manage to smile when friends and co-workers make endless, tired jokes like, "Hey -- don't blow a gasket."
Sometime soon, I'll tell you all about the history of my first name, Hedley.
Meantime, since so many of you did so well with the last challenge, let's do it again with the same choices but a different car.

  • * 2004 Honda S2000

  • * 2006 Mazda MX-5

  • * 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

  • * 2007 Pontiac Solstice

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