'I'm proud to be called John Hittler - I won't change my name and let the bullies win'

He shares his name with one of the most famous antisemites in history - but John Hittler is determined to make the most of his unfortunate inheritance


John Hittler is used to being pre-judged. For as long as he can remember, people have either taken offence at his name, even resorting to violence, or assuming he shares their Nazi beliefs.

But this Hittler the name comes with an extra “t” is not a Nazi. He is just someone who, through no fault of his own, shares a last name with one of the most terrible, and lethal, antisemites of all time.

An executive coach from California, he has been living with the Hittler name for his whole life. Perhaps surprisingly, despite the violence, aggression and bullying he has suffered, on balance, he says, his name has been “a gigantic advantage”.

The Hittler family name comes from John’s German grandfather, who moved to the United States long before the dictator’s dreadful rise to power in Europe. His other three grandparents were Irish, with the far more inconspicuous names Sullivan, Hunter and Lynch. But the Hittler name was the one that survived and was passed on to John and his eight siblings.

This Hittler, aged 61, grew up in the Midwestern city of Detroit, and one of his earliest memories is of learning how his name would have a very real impact on his safety.

“I literally had the s**t kicked out of me when I was 12 years old,” he remembers. “It was 16 year olds in a car.”

Hittler and a friend had been riding their bikes together when, he says, the group of teenagers “ran us off the road into a ditch and then surrounded us and beat the s**t out of me. They took my bike and ran over it and then backed over it again to make sure that it was worthless.”

After that, he asked his mother an obvious question: Why didn’t the family just change their name?

Her response resonated with a young John: “She looked at me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Adversity builds character. We are not changing our name.”

Even when he was old enough to do so himself, her words rang in his ears and he remained a Hittler.

In what is perhaps the most striking example of this businessman’s “glass-half-full” outlook, throughout his life, in matters personal and professional, having the name “Hittler” has been “unbelievably helpful”, he insists.

Having such a memorable name has presented Hittler with opportunities that might never have been available had he been a “Smith”. It has also given him a “sixth sense” about the kinds of characters who are best avoided.

“I’m super grateful for it because… I have a sixth sense that’s off the charts for who’s a weirdo, who to stay away from or who’s dangerous.”

There have been occasions, for example, when he has picked up a “weird vibe” from a particular individual and will keep his distance: “We’ll find out through the grapevine three months later that person is a sex offender,” he claims.

Hittler has also benefitted from his name in professional settings: “It’s a gigantic advantage, because no one forgets it. I don’t carry a business card. People go to conferences or events and come home and tell their spouse, ‘I met this guy, his name was Phil, I can’t remember his last name.’ They never say that about me. They always say, ‘You’ll never believe it, I met a guy named Hittler today.’”

That is not to say there are not some drawbacks to sharing your name with the dictator who presided over one of history’s most murderous regimes: “I have had clients who said ‘I just can’t work with you.’ Even though they want to hire me, they won’t and I actually completely understand… If they have a visceral reaction every time they think about me, it’s not ideal.”

He might have managed to make the most of his unfortunate inheritance, but what about the next generation of Hittlers?

John and his wife, Radhika, have seven children. Conversations he has had with them about their name have been very different from the one he had with his mother: “They’re a generation on. And the further you get away from the Holocaust, the more the memory of it diminishes .

Now, he says, some children “don’t even know who Hitler was. They kind of the sense that he was a ‘bad guy’. But they have no sense of history.

When it comes to the legacy of the name Hittler, John is ambivalent. “I just said to my kids you’re going to have to make up your own mind on whether to keep the name. Some have and some haven’t.”

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