Legends & Legacies View More

Bond. James Bond.

Published: 2/14/2014
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James Bond (Wikimedia Commons)

Few names conjure up a mood and image quite like James Bond. Spoken in clipped British tones, the last name preceding the first and then repeated –– "Bond. James Bond." –– the name plunges you into a stylish world of intrigue. The speaker is suave, confident and dead sexy. He's a spy, an agent of the British Secret Service and lethally talented at his job. Enemies fear him and women swoon at his feet.

Or else he's a bird-watcher.

James Bond, the spy, took his name from a much humbler James Bond. The real James Bond was an ornithologist, an expert on the birds of the Caribbean who wrote a highly regarded field guide called Birds of the West Indies.

When Ian Fleming conceived of the spy who would make him famous, he was living in Jamaica. Fleming needed a name for his character, something blunt, bland and very ordinary. His international man of mystery didn't need a flowery name that would overshadow his character –– the name needed to be able to fade into the background. A glance at the cover of a popular field guide gave him his answer: Bond. James Bond.

''It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born," Fleming wrote years later to Bond's wife, Mary Fanning Wickham Bond, according to Bond's Associated Press obituary.

''In return,'' he wrote, ''I can only offer you or James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purposes you may think fit. Perhaps one day your husband will discover a particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion by calling it Ian Fleming.''

Fleming visited his inspiration once, in 1964, and gave him a prepublication copy of You Only Live Twice, inscribed, "To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity. Ian Fleming, Feb. 5, 1964, (a great day!)" Bond may have appreciated the valuable gift, but it certainly wasn't the only item worthy of a place on his mantel. He wrote more than 100 books and scientific papers on Caribbean birds and won medals for his work from the Institute of Jamaica, the American Ornithologists' Union and the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.

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