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Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Middle have St. Petersburg presence

Juliet famously asked Romeo, "What's in a name?" • Tampa Bay residents could well be pondering the same, or likely doing a double-take about two names that are strikingly similar.

All Children's Hospital, headlines recently proclaimed, is entering into a prestigious alliance with Johns Hopkins. The middle school?

Not quite.

Johns Hopkins is an illustrious Baltimore hospital and the name of an equally lauded university.

John Hopkins is a middle school in St. Petersburg, recently in the news for a wave of disciplinary problems.

For the folks in Baltimore, confusion over the Johns Hopkins name is nothing new. "As a matter of fact, we decided this year to do a little bit of an April Fools' Day prank based on it,'' said Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman.

"We changed our university home page and put up an announcement: 'We give up. People just aren't going to get the name right, so we are going to change the name to John Hopkins University.' ''

That got lots of laughs and even a mention on NBC's Nightly News.

The fact is, Johns Hopkins was the real name of a real person. And you ask, why couldn't his parents be satisfied with plain old John? The answer is that Johns was the maiden name of a great-grandmother and then became the given name of a grandfather.

By most accounts, Johns was as interesting as his unusual name. Born in 1795 on his parents' tobacco plantation in Maryland, he had to give up his privileged life when his parents — members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) — obeyed the teachings of the group and freed their slaves. Their decision meant Johns was forced to end his formal education and work on the plantation. He later became a merchant. His wares included whiskey — some of it moonshine rebottled under the Hopkins' Best label — according to an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine. He was temporarily expelled from the Quakers for moonshining.

In any case, Johns invested well and when he died in 1873, the university and hospital that bear his name received generous bequests.

Fast forward a century and some years to Florida. The former Sixteenth Street Middle School, rebuilt to the tune of $19 million at 701 16th St. S, is renamed to honor John Henry Hopkins Sr., a beloved former principal.

"We couldn't think of anybody more fitting,'' said former student Watson Haynes, referring to the community campaign that led to the name change.

That the cursory reader might be slightly baffled by the distinction between John Hopkins of St. Petersburg and Johns Hopkins of Baltimore is understandable, Haynes said. "When they see one, they think of the other,'' he said.

Like Johns Hopkins, the St. Petersburg principal was also named for a family member. A son, Leslie Hopkins, who lives in Tarpon Springs and is an assistant principal at Clearwater High School, believes his father was named after his father, Johnny.

Also like the Baltimore Hopkins, John Hopkins valued education. He thought it was the road to success for minorities, Leslie Hopkins said. "He stood firm on that.''

And, said Haynes, he "didn't take stuff from anybody.''

As principal, he walked the halls, knew his students and perhaps more ominously, "knew our parents,'' Haynes said.

After John Hopkins retired, he helped start the Pinellas County Urban League and spearheaded the opening of the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg. He also helped start the Pinellas Opportunity Council and became its executive director. Haynes, his former student, became chairman of the board. Call me John, he said. Haynes simply couldn't.

As for Johns — as in Johns Hopkins — the name remains a tongue twister for most.

"The fact is that it is an extremely unusual name,'' O'Shea conceded. "And people aren't used to using it, and they mess it up all the time.''

Waveney Ann Moore, at or (727) 892-2283.

Johns Hopkins

Baltimore hospital, university

John Hopkins

St. Petersburg middle school

Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Middle have St. Petersburg presence 07/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 3:08pm]
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