The Importance of Being Travis: A Dozen or So Famous and Infamous Guys with My Name

I am often asked about the origin of my pseudonym Trav S.D. — it has multiple meanings, but the whole point in choosing a symbolic moniker is NOT to overexplain and NOT to literalize. When in doubt my preference is always to drive people crazy. But I thought I would use the occasion of my birthday to deconstruct my given name, Travis.

Travis is actually my middle name — it’s a tradition in my father’s Southern family to go by the middle name. Derived from Old French, it means “At the crossroads”, a fact that I have always loved. In pop culture, the name tends to be associated with A) crackers, B) villains, and C) cracker villains. I am often amused in watching a TV movie or crime drama, when some low-life, criminal, woman-beating boyfriend is introduced, his name almost invariably turns out to be “Travis”. Now, I know there are Travises of color, notably in professional sports and hip hop, but here is a cherry picked list of more crackery Travises that I feel have contributed to the name’s reputation.

Lt. Col. William B. Travis (1809-1836)

This the UR-Travis, hero of the Alamo, and the reason for all the cracker Travises that have followed in his wake, I believe. One gets the impression that Colonel Travis was not well-liked, he was not a man of the people like Davy Crockett, but he died right there with the rest of them, doing his duty. He was played in John Wayne’s 1960 movie version by Laurence Harvey. 

Merle Travis (1917-1983)

Merle Travis was a giant of country music, inventor of the Travis style of fingerpicking, and author of coal-mining ballads as “Dark as a Dungeon” and “Sixteen Tons” . I performed a cover version of the former song at Dixon Place a couple of years ago. 

Brigadier General Robert Falligant Travis (1904-1950)

His inclusion here is not as remotely as random as it sounds, for the famous Travis Air Force Base in California is his namesake. General Travis was killed along with 18 crew members when the atomic bomb their plane was carrying blew up. Fortunately, the plutonium was being carried in another plane for safety reasons (in fact, just this reason!) But as every school kid knows (or ought to know) the fissionable material in an atomic device is ignited with TNT. This is what killed General Travis.

The Kid from Old Yeller (1957)

Tommy Kirk played a boy named Travis in the rural Disney classic.

Travis McGee (1964-1984)

This was one of my nicknames when I was a kid. The fictional mystery hero, created by John D. McDonald was not a detective, but a scavenger, who recovered people’s belongings for 50 cents on the dollar. He was played in a 1983 movie by Sam Elliott.

Travis Walton (b. 1953)

In 1975, forest ranger Travis Walton claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He has been dining out on the story ever since.

Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976)

Are you talkin’ to me?

Randy Travis (b. 1959)

Travis Tritt (b. 1963)

Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas (1984)

Wim Wenders/ Sam Shepard masterpiece.

Travis (1990s-present)

This Scottish indie band named themselves after Harry Dean Stanton’s character in Paris, Texas they liked it so much.

That Chimp That Tore That Woman’s Face Off (2009)

You must admit this is a tough act to follow — perhaps the last word in barbaric Travises