‘call me anything, so long as you don’t call me late to dinner’

The jocular phrase call me anything, so long as you don’t call me late to dinner and its variants mean that the speaker does not care what he is being called.

These are the earliest occurrences that I have found, presented in chronological order:

1-: From the following dialogue, in a short story titled Mercantile Drumming, published in the Republican Farmer and Democratic Journal (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) of Wednesday 10th July 1833 (this newspaper specifies that this story is reprinted from the New York Constellation):

‘I am engaged in the dry goods line. My name is Thumgudgeon, of the firm of Thumgudgeon, Pumphandle & Co.’
‘Well, you’re a darned queer soundin set, any how, Pumpgudgeon, Thumphandle & Co.! That beats me, by hokey. I thought we had some mighty odd names in Varmount, in the town of Linkumstipple, where I came from; but, by gorree! they’re nothin to compare with your’n.’
‘Oh, as to that,’ said the merchant, a little mortified, ‘it’s of very little consequence what a man is called, so that—”
He isn’t called too late to dinner,’ interrupted the Yankee—‘that’s jest what I tell my wife. Says I, Mrs. Flipper—my name, sir, is Flipper, of Linkumstipple—says I, Mrs. Flipper, call me what you please, but don’t call me too late to dinner.’

(Several U.S. newspapers later reprinted this short story.)

2-: From Japhet in Search of a Father, by the English naval officer and novelist Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), published in The Albion, or, British, Colonial, and Foreign Weekly Gazette (New York City, N.Y.) of Saturday 13th December 1834:

“I was brought up by the parish, in the workhouse. I was found at the door of a gentleman’s house, who sent me to the overseers—I was about a year old then. They call me a foundling, but I don’t care what they call me, so long as they don’t call me too late for dinner.”

(Several U.S. newspapers later reprinted this novel, which first appeared in book form in 1835.)

3-: From Something more about the late Proceedings in our Parish, published in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (London: James Fraser) of January 1837—one faction of the parish-officers have invited the other faction’s leader to “a supper and jollification at [the] public-house called “the Rat and Wig””; it is this leader who speaks first:

“You all know those great buttresses, as they call ’em, against the side of the church tower, where they are of no manner of use, nor the tower either that I can perceive; well, the stones they are built with are parish property, and so we must have them for a school; what do you say of that?”
“What do I say!” exclaimed one of our men in office, “I say it’s a capital idea. You ought to have a school, supported by the parish, and there’s stone enough in those useless buttresses. […] So, you may consider that matter as settled. I’ll introduce myself at the vestry. Only mind and muster your chaps as strong as you can, and I’ll get ours together, and we’ll carry the point with a hullabaloo.”
“We must contrive to keep our places at any rate!” exclaimed one of our men in office, interrupting him.
Call me what you like,” roared another, “except only don’t call me too late for dinner,” and at this effort of wit, his colleagues chuckled and rubbed their hands.

4-: From Jonathan Slick in New York. Mrs. Beebe’s Party, published in The Cleveland Daily Herald (Cleveland, Ohio) of Friday 13th December 1839:

‘I declare you’ve got to be quite a lion since you took to writing, cousin Slick.’
‘A what?,’ sez I.
‘A literary lion,’ sez she, with one of her old Weathersfield smiles.
‘Wal,’ sez I, ‘that’s a queer name, but I don’t care what they call me, if they don’t call me late to dinner.’

 

VARIANTS WITH BREAKFAST

 

Both American and Australian English have used a variant with breakfast instead of dinner. These are the earliest occurrences that I have found, presented in chronological order:

1-: From The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) of Wednesday 7th March 1894:

The Boarder’s Wrath.

The landlady jumped the boarder
Because he had jumped his bill,
She had done it before the others
In a manner fit to kill.

You may call me late to breakfast,
You may call me Jones or Brown,”
He said to her in his anger,
“But you shall not call me down.”

2-: From Mrs. Calvin Peck Says Manzer “Didn’t Help Matters a Bit”, published in The Milwaukee Journal (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) of Thursday 21st August 1902:

Racine, Wis., Aug. 21.—[…] Mr. Bailey has a reputation in Racine as a “jollier.” As evidence of this it is reported that Mrs. Peck’s two boys, aged 14 and 10 years, came to him in their innocent perplexity and said:
“Ed, after you have married ma, what are we going to call you?”
Call me anything,” replied the festive Mr. Bailey, “so you don’t call me late for breakfast.”

3-: From the column On the World’s Stage, by ‘Jovial Jacques’, published in The National Advocate (Bathurst, New South Wales) of Saturday 24th December 1910—the following are recollections of an old-time bushranger named Gardiner and of John MacGuire, who “knew every member of the Gardiner gang intimately”:

It was MacGuire who gave Gardiner the name of “Starlight,” and this is how it happened. MacGuire was going to bed one night about eleven o’clock when a sharp rap was heard at the front door, and on it being opened, Gardiner stepped in and said, “MacGuire I want you to come along with me to-night, and we must start as soon as possible.” “Oh, well,” replied MacGuire, “if I must, I suppose I must.” Then he got himself ready and went for a couple of miles into the bush until he came to a peculiar looking box tree. “Now,” he said, “I want you, Mac, to sit down with your back to that tree and watch over me while I have a good night’s sleep. The truth is I have been on the spree in Forbes nearly all the week. I want a real good night’s sleep while you keep a look out for any danger signals.” ‘All right,’ returned Mac, “you’ll have a lovely starlight night for sleeping out, Captain, and, by the way, that wouldn’t be a bad title to call you—‘Captain Starlight’—would it?” “I don’t care what you call me, so long as you don’t call me too late for breakfast in the morning,” was the laughing reply of the ’ranger as he rolled over and went to sleep. That is how the title of Captain Starlight was fastened on to Gardiner—and it stuck.

4-: From Objections to “Frisco.” San Franciscans Should Be Careful Not to Appear as Priggish, published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of Sunday 7th March 1915:

We do ourselves credit in a certain sensitiveness to anything savoring of disrespect for the sonorous name of San Francisco, but we must be careful not to appear priggish on the subject, or, like the boy who objects most to a nickname, it will be most certain to stick.
You can call me anything you like, so long as you don’t call me late for breakfast,” says the vaudevillian, but if San Francisco is not prepared to be quite so liberal and tolerant as all that it should not be excessively touchy in the matter of nomenclature.

An extended form of the phrase occurs in the column Local Happenings, published in The Great Bend Tribune (Great Bend, Kansas) of Friday 28th April 1916:

I don’t care what they call me,” said a man today who was called everything but his right name, “just so long as they don’t call me too late for breakfast, dinner and supper.”