This is a saying, the origin of which should not to be taken for granted. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., on Good Friday evening, April 14, 1865, his killer, actor John Wilkes Booth, who was in great pain from an injury he sustained in a fall from the stage, and a friend, rode on horseback to the plantation home of Dr. Samuel Mudd. After their arrival at about 4 a.m., Dr. Mudd treated Booth. At daybreak Mudd had a neighbor make Booth a set of crutches.
Mudd later denied knowing Booth, but was taken to trial, where testimony was given that they did indeed know each other. Mudd was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. He later confessed to lying to protect his family. He became so nationally hated that someone who is harshly disliked is sometimes told, “Your name is Mudd!”
But, this was not the true origin of the popular slang saying, no matter what we think in the U.S., for it was in circulation long before there was even a President Lincoln, as it was listed by ‘J. Bee,’ a pseudonym for John Badcock, in A Dictionary of the Turf, etc., in England in 1823.
“Mud - a stupid twaddling fellow. ‘And his name is mud!’ ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.”
Since it was originally “mud,” not Mudd, that is not its origin. The composition of mud is dirt and water. Actually, it began to be used figuratively as early as the 16th century — the 1500s —to refer to things which were worthless. It later was applied to people as early as 1703 in the account of London’s low-life, Hell upon Earth. “Mud, a Fool or thick-skull Fellow.”
Then, in the 19th century, there were many printed examples of “as fat as mud,” “as rich as mud,” and “as sick as mud.” These comparisons, meaning decaying and worthless, were enough to use it with someone’s name as an insult. Other sayings such as “dragged through the mud” and “mud in your eye” came along to be added to “your name is mud.”
Stan St. Clair is the author of the best-selling book, “Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions.” If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.