Friday, February 7, 2003

Yes, That's My Name, Too

Sometimes I hate having such a common name. Yesterday, a quite young and very nicely dressed man came to the office to help us set up our new payroll system; upon arrival, he stuck out his hand in the accepted corporate-sales manner and announced, with a tone almost of pride, "My name is Robert!" I was rather taken aback, and felt slightly silly explaining that my name is also Robert... and aside from the vague embarassment of having arrived second at the name, I also noted immediately that my reading was rather less enthusiastic than his. "That's a very nice name," he exclaimed, laughing charmingly. An altogether charming young man. It made me want to hit him.

Over the years I have come to feel that Robert is, indeed, a rather nice name. It's very strong, upstanding, warrior-sounding sort of name. I think of Lord Robert Dudley, or Robert the Bruce, or Robert Stack. It's all so very masculine and all, literally translating as "Red Beard," with all that ancient Anglo-Saxon/Viking/Scots resonance of horses and swords and kilts and blue face-paint.

I just don't think it fits me... which is, I think, the primary reason that so few people actually remember my name after having met me. I also deplore the diminutives that certain kinds of people are wont to adopt without permission... Bob being the most heinous of these. Bob is not a nice name (even if it is my father's name... I know I never call him that), and it drives me instantly insane when people address me as such. My family still call me Bobby, simply because they knew me when I couldn't speak to correct them, and long years of use have inured them to it. What makes it ever so much more confusing is that many of the family call my father Bobby as well; when I was a child, we were known as Big Bobby and Little Bobby, but now I am quite a bit bigger than my father so that has fallen out of use. I suppose they could use Bobby Senior and Bobby Junior instead, but that would take as much effort on their parts as simply calling me Robert as I asked them to do years ago, so it won't happen.

For some reason, the name Bobby (or Bob) just makes me ill. Though I am accustomed to hearing it and answering to it, I started having difficulty saying it myself when I was ten. Everybody in the world who was not related to me addressed me as Robert, and I got accustomed to introducing myself as Robert, and announcing myself as Robert... so when I greet a relative on the phone, having to say "this is Bobby" absolutely galls me.

I don't mind Rob or Robby so much, though for some reason very few people ever think of calling me by those. I've never met a Robert who went by Bert or Bertie, though I suppose one could go that route if one were English enough.

Then there is the commonness factor... there are a lot of people named Robert in this world. I don't know how many times I've had to say, "My name is also Robert." It's like showing up to a gala opera opening wearing the same dress as one of the ushers.

Of course, unless one gets saddled with a name that one's parents made up in a mushroom-and-pot haze of consciousness, that's pretty much bound to happen to anyone. I can't think of very many names that aren't shared by at least two people of my acquaintance. And those who do have unusual names must always end up sharing the name with something even more embarrassing than a payroll-service sales rep. For example, my friend Shiloh must share his name with a crackpot Baptist organization and an heroic Disney beagle; my step-sister Heidi must share her name not only with a disgustingly cheerful Shirley Temple character but also with a famous Hollywood Madam. It seems no name is completely safe.

I sometimes ponder how life might have been different if Grandmother had given my father the name she wanted... Charles. If Daddy had been a Charles or a Charlie or a Chuck, how might his life have changed? I know that I personally prefer the name Charles... but then knowing the perversity of the human spirit, if I had grown up with the name Charles, I would probably wish I'd been named Robert instead. But still, I think the name suits me better, and I like the way it sounds. So much less consonant and more musical. You can drag it out with a terribly affected accent or clip it short and sweet. Charlie or Chaz has so much more panache than Bobby or Rob.

On the other hand, it suddenly occurs to me that "Charles" simply does not go well with my last name (the real one, not the one I use here). That wouldn't do at all. But then, I dislike my last name even more than my first name (hence my eagerness to use a pen-name... in fact, I am reluctant to admit my last name in any context, even at work), so it's really neither here nor there. Don't even get me started on my middle-name, which I consider an affront to the ear (Eugene).

So, if not Charles, what names would I prefer to wander around the world with? I've always liked the name Daniel, and also Leo or Lionel. I like the name James, though it is more liable to diminution than my own. Richard is nice, a lot of people already think that is my name, but for some reason there's something decadent-sounding about it. And none of these names is particularly rare. There are also names that I like the sound of but don't think I could ever live up to, such as Alexander or Julian or Christopher. Frederick is very nice, I think, and Reginald.

The thing is that there are thousands and millions of very nice names in the world, and each person has at least one. Names of people are like the names of objects... the object seldom gets to name itself. Even our stage-names are suggested for us, and they fit or don't fit as the case may be.

Well, anyway... I'm starting to feel very sleepy for some reason, and I can no longer pursue this particular train of thought. Though my staying home on Wednesday certainly did me a world of good as far as my flu goes, I am still not entirely healthy. And then last night I didn't sleep at all well, due to these goddamned hateful windstorms. OH! How I hate windstorms! I'd rather have rain and cold than gale-force winds snapping the bushes against my windows and howling through the hallway all night. I don't know how people in the Plains states can stand it. Of course, I can't imagine why anybody would live in a Plains state at all, considering that the winds are the least of their problems.

So I'm going to go lay down on the floor for a few moments and try to collect myself. Today's big task is an envelope-stuffing, and you all know how much I love stuffing envelopes. Fortunately Caroline is coming over this evening to help me... she always makes the task fun and entertaining. But in the meantime I have to manipulate the database and get all the labels printed, and I can't do it if my head is nodding on the end of my neck. So until we meet again, à bientôt!

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