By Kaitlin Strohschein
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines mud as, “soft, wet earth.” It is also the home of earthworms, an ideal substance in which to grow plants, and the main ingredient in mud pies.
Although mud serves some important functions, in the above expression it colloquially means uselessness. There are two widely held theories about the origin of the expression, “one’s name is mud,” in both of which the connotations about mud are not favorable.
The first widely held belief is that “Mudd” is a name: Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd’s. Dr. Mudd set the left fibula that John Wilkes Booth broke while carrying out his successful assassination plan of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865.
According to the University of Maryland’s Medical Alumni Association, the setting of Mr. Booth’s ankle nearly cost Dr. Mudd his life. After a narrowly escaping the death penalty in a military tribunal, Dr. Mudd was jailed for years. Although Booth lived, his reputation, and consequently his “name,” was tarnished. Since this is similar to the idea behind the idiom “my name is Mudd,” subscribers to the first theory believe that they have the same origin.
The second theory suggests that the idiom was the result of the colloquial association of the word “mud” with dishonor. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, throwing and hurling mud meant to “make disgraceful accusations” as early as 1762.
According to the Phrase Finder (phrases.org.uk), the expression “My name is mud” was first recorded in 1823 in John Badcock’s Slang – A dictionary of the turf etc.
Because the phrase’s first use in 1823 happened 43 years before Dr. Mudd set Booth’s ankle, there is a general consensus that the latter theory about the idioms origin is more likely to be correct than the former.