about your name

Don’t do this work all at once! What’s the rush? You waited this long. Take your time. The idea is to have fun. If I were you I would take a week to do this writing. You will have the pleasure of walking around thinking about your writing. Hey, I could say this. Hey, I remember something funny. Write for 15-30 minutes a day, then do something else.

Of course you will do this writing on your computer so you can save and later edit your work.

Okay? Let’s go.

I. Your name is what? This seems like a good place to begin. You’ve lived with your name your whole life. What was that like? What was funny? What was difficult? What recurring issues came up? Begin by telling the story of how you got your name. At some point in their life, every person asks a parent or parents, how did I get to be named ——?  If there’s a story, tell it. 

My full name is Richard Evan Bailey. 

I was named for my father’s Uncle Dick, Richard Mills, and for my mother’s Uncle Evan. Uncle Dick was married to my father’s Aunt Clarice, a woman I saw at family gatherings with a high scratchy voice who seemed to talk all the time.  Uncle Dick, on the other hand, was quiet. He stood behind Aunt Clarice and let her talk. He was Dick. I became Rick. I’m glad of that. Uncle Dick and I never became close. Maybe because I was Rick.

The second of two children, I have an older brother Tom. When John and Alice, my parents, decided to name me Richard, they were thinking a third child might come along. What if the third one was a boy? And what if my name was Dick? Tom, Dick and Harry? They went with Rick to escape from that little cliche. Or at least that’s what they said

II. Now, continuing: Do you like your name? Talk about that.

When i was a kid I didn’t like my middle name. I never met anyone with that name.  I don’t remember ever being introduced to Uncle Evan. 

My first name has variants, versions: Richard, Rich, Dick, Dickie, Rick, Rickie. A gazillion times, someone looking at Richard on a sheet of paper has glanced up and said: Dick? No, I say.  It’s Rick, not Dick. A couple friends always called me Richard. My pal Brian Bennet, who I played music with in high school, called me Richard then and for the rest of his life. A friend I acquired through marriage, Dave Wizniewski called me Richard. The name always seemed kind of formal and stuffy. It means “brave ruler” and originates in old German. Brave ruler. Nothing could be further from the truth about me. I am neither brave or much of a ruler, though I don’t mind telling kids what to do.  

When I fill out forms online, I have to make a decision. Am I Richard or Rick? Lately I’ve been going with Rick.  

III. Tell a story related to your name. Something funny or confusing happened.   

When my wife and I moved into the house where we live now, the phone company assigned us a new phone number.  The number had not been out of service for long. We got three kinds of calls: those that were intended for us, calls for an appointment at a beauty shop, and calls for a guy who had the number before us, named Richard Bernstein. I enjoyed the beauty shop calls.  Usually it was an older woman, some of whom sounded ancient. I like talking to old ladies. I would tell them,” no, this isn’t the salon but I would be happy to do your hair in my garage that day. Would two o’clock be okay?” The calls for Richard Bernstein were confusing. It was usually men who called.  They wouldn’t say hello.  They would just say, Richard? And I would think the call for for me. Yes? I would say. And caller would launch into a detailed question that was clearly not meant for me.  I’m not that Richard, I would say.  Inevitably they would ask: Do you have his new number? Other men who called were pals with that Richard. “Dick?” they said as soon as I picked up the phone? Often they said the name with a tone of desperation, like Dick was strong, a ruler who would solve their problem or get them out of trouble. All hours of the day, sometimes at night. “Hello, Dick?”  No, I’m not Dick.  I’m Rick. This went on for almost a year. I still get calls from the old ladies looking for the beauty shop.

IV. If you have one, tell another story related to your name. Maybe the example I provide below will give you some ideas on how you would like to say next.

When I taught, my students referred to me and Mr. Bailey. These were college courses. There were professors who told students to call them by their first name. In college I had an education prof who told students, Just call me Wally.  To me it seems if not phony at least kind of wrong. I went with the Mr. One day in the hallway, I saw the sister of a friend, a friend who always referred to me as Rickie.  From thirty feet down the hall, she waved her arms and said, Rickie! Hi Rickie! Later, when I saw the friend, I told her the story and said, Tell Jeannine in school I’m Mr. Bailey, not Rickie.

As chance would have it, the name of the director of my dissertation was Richard Bailey. He was Richard W.  I’m Richard E.  Also, he was Dick. That’s not the only way we could tell each other apart. He was tall; I am not. He was balding; I am not. He was brilliant and could be condescending to the point of scathing; I am not neither brilliant nor scathing, though I can be intolerant and rude.

V. What about other people with your name? Cite some examples and provide a sentence or two of detail about that person.

Other people with my name: the actor Richard Burton, whose friends called him Dick. When I spent a month in Stratford, England, when I was in college, there was a local actor named Richard Pasco.  He was Dickie. A friend of mine married a guy from England named Dick Goody. A Richard I got to know in grad school, Dick Samuels. In the movie Cacablanca, Humphrey Bogart play’s Rick Blaine. In the 70’s I loved the Steely Dan song “Rickie Don’t Lose That Number.”  I think the Rickie in that song is female. In college I went on one date with a girl named Rickie. We drank a lot wine. She threw up. There are lots of Ricks out there. Something tells me Dick may be used more in British culture.    

VI. Okay, at this point I’ve written around 900 words. I’ve had this name business popping up in my mind over the last few days, and I’ve thought of other stuff I didn’t mention in this invitations. 

  1. What if I had been born a girl? what was my name going to be?
  2. What about nicknames? 
  3. How did I compare my name to friends’ names when I was a kid? I wish I had been called…

If these questions take you to memory, write what comes to mind. Or perhaps the example I provide below will give you some ideas on how you would like to proceed.

My mother said she liked the name Julie. I like it too. If I had been born a girl, I would have been Julie Bailey?

My friends were Daniel Charles Leman. Dean Frederick Gaul. Ronald Duane Fritz. My bother was Thomas John Bailey. One of my cousins was a third, Stanley A. Bailey III. He had a nickname. I grew up calling him Chip. My grandfather called him Kelly. A kid in town named Casey Maxwell was Catholic and had two middle names. Casey David Sebastian Maxwell. I thought that was the coolest name. I still do.

I never had a nickname. My friend Dan tried to rectify that situation. In the summer of 1971 I lived briefly with a bunch of guys in Breckenridge, Colorado. At that time, if you grew up in Michigan, you wanted to go to Colorado and drink Coors beer. And be in the mountains. Six of us lived in a small two bedroom condo at a place called International Village. Everyone had a nickname. Dan was Mr. DL. Bob Webster was Webby. Dave Marolf was Max. Ron Fritz was Rocket. Steve Eaton was Thumper. One day Dan said I ought to have a nickname. Inexplicably, he suggested Twenty-three. No one I knew had a numerical nickname. The only example of a person with a numerical name is a Star Trek character. So it was kind of a failure of imagination on Dan’s part. The nickname did not catch on. It lasted an afternoon and fizzled. I don’t think any of the others ever called me Twenty-three. 

When I was little my father called me Buck. But he called my brother that, too. So Buck wasn’t all mine. Furthermore, making a home nickname public is not always a winning proposition. I gave my son a lot of nicknames. His name is David, but I called him Henry, Gus, Sam, Evinrude, Mooley, Moo, and LFDWB. At school, he was not keen on being called those names. 

The father of one of his friends goes by Big D. D for Dennis. His boys call me Professor Bailey. One day I suggested they call me PB, short for Professor Bailey. Matt, my son’s friend, smiled and shook his head. “That’s okay,” he said. “I like Professor Bailey.” Which just goes to show you: you can’t name yourself. It has come from someone else.

What about people who change their name? A student I knew went through the official process of changing his name, from Bill Belch to Bill Johnson. Stanley A. Bailey III decided he didn’t want to be called Chip. Or Stanley. Or Stan. When he came out of the US Navy he was Kelly. It was an homage to our grandfather. I could never get used to it. 

A kid I went to school with, Howdy Richards. His real name was Harold. His father’s name was Harold. Where did Howdy come from? I never knew.