The Name Game

My mother has always told me there’s no story behind my name. She just liked it. That’s what she says. Sometimes I try to come up with bizarre stories to explain why she won’t tell me the real source–a hated minor political figure of the mid-’60s, a frat boy who hit on her at a party, a jerk professor from her college days.

Whatever the inspiration, I was named Reid and grew up in a reading family: a mother with a BA in English literature, a father with an MFA in creative writing, shelves lined with books, local library trusteeships accepted, college courses taught.

And it didn’t take long before grade-school classmates cottoned on to the fact that my name was a pun. Yes, “Reid is reading!” Hahahahahahaha. And it was true. In the small town where I grew up, I once or twice walked the (very straight) sidewalk from elementary school partway home while reading a book. (I think it was a biography of Louisa May Alcott, but it might have been the one about Amelia Earhart.)

My little brother (whose juvenile taunts can be somewhat discounted by the fact that he recently earned a Ph.D. in English literature) used to accuse me of reading too much. And putting too much stock in what I read–instead of what I experienced directly.

True enough. I’m a serious reader. A professional reader. A person perhaps overly influenced by what she reads. A little analysis, and alternative perspectives offered in comments, may help me put my reading in proper context. There’s always someone–many someones–who have read more than I have, or more critically, or more carefully. I hope to hear from those people.

This blog will describe my reading (novels, nonfiction, blogs, newspapers, tweets, magazines, advertisements) and how it’s become part of my life.

Naturally enough, my first name has shaped aspects of my life, and I am incorporating it into the name of the blog. How do you think your own name has affected the course of your personal history? What, or whom, do you associate your name with?

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22 responses to “The Name Game

  1. People used to sing various “Maria” themed songs to me a lot and it would drive me crazy. People also assume I can speak Spanish. (I can’t.)

    Heh.

    • Like one’s appearance, one’s name is part of the book “cover” people judge you by. Until they get to know you, strangers will make assumptions based on the scraps of information they get. You can be irritated or you can laugh. Or both. And your own reactions to others’ assumptions also shape you. So I have always had to answer strangers’ statements that “That’s an interesting/unusual name!” (Yes! Thank you!) “Is it a family name?” (Not that I know of.) “Where does it come from?” (You got me. My mother just tells me she liked it.) I haven’t been able to turn these obvious attempts at benign small talk into actual conversation. Until now, perhaps!

  2. Kenneth is my name and it never ceases to amaze me how frequently people assume it’s appropriate to call me “Ken”. It happened again today. Met a colleague for the first time, introduced myself with first and last name and he immediately said, “Nice to meet you Ken”. I didn’t bother to correct him today I doubt we’ll encounter one another again. But I don’t know who “Ken” is? Do you? I share my first name with both my father and his father but we all have different middle names. As a child, my grandfather was the “Kenneth”, my dad the “Kenny” and I was “Kenneth Edward”. So the appropriate shortening of my name is “Kenneth” nothing less. It’s already shortened. My father still sometimes calls me Kenneth Edward – and growing up my mom used both names when she was mad at me. My dad’s sister still uses both names when talking to or about me. So please world – when I introduce myself as “Kenneth” rest assured, I know what my name is and don’t try to change it. If you do, prepare yourself for me correcting you or just finding a random way to annoy and shorten your name when I respond. – Sincerely, KenNETH

    • It’s probably common–and commonly disliked–for people called Margaret, Richard or Robert to be given diminutives against their wishes. One of my friends refers to herself as Pamela, and I’ve diligently called her that because it seems clear she prefers it to Pam.

      • For better or for worse, being a John (in my age group at least) means never, ever being the only guy with my name in any decent sized group. My last name is common enough that there is often somebody with BOTH my names around. I’ve been given the “other me’s” paycheck by mistake, answered several summons to my high school’s office for someone else’s infractions, fielded phone calls from everyone from FBI agents to someone else’s drunk ex-girlfriends. Which is one of several reasons both my sons have pretty uncommon names. They’ll no doubt find many drawbacks to their names and resort to naming their children something like John, Jim, Bob, Kathy or Mary…

      • You could always go by Jack, which has the attention-getting “k” sound at the end. But there’s a stealthy quality to having a common name. It’s like a spy name. I could never have the name Reid and be a spy. Too memorable. You need to blend in to be an operative.

  3. My name is Mary. Yes, it is a family name, both my grandmothers were named Mary. However I’m not sure if I was named after them or if I am named after Mary Tyler Moore. My father liked her and I was told that my name was almost Laura, probably from her Laura Petrie charater. Sometimes, I wished I went by my middle name, especially when the song Mary, Mary, Why you buggin? came out. Then there was Nite – Mar and of course There is Something about Mary. But in the end, I’m with George M. Cohan…. It’s a Grand Old Name.

  4. Age 5: Read Alice in Wonderland. Decided I had the best name ever.

    Age 6: Called “Alice in Wonderland” by teacher whenever I was caught daydreaming. Reconsidered previous decision.

    Age 10: Gym teacher insisted on singing “Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown” to me. A lot. Tried to legally change my name. (Not really.)

    Age 14: Popular local commercial shows woman tripping and running into things while her husband pleads, “Get glasses, Alice.” Guess what I hear every time I fall or run into things? Which is often?

    Age 16: Someone realizes that my name rhymes with “phallus,” aaaand that’s the end of me.

    Age 22: Band Alice in Chains emerges. I get a lot of shit for it.

    Age 39: There is another Alice Bradley on the web, and she appears to be some sort of porn-y model. Yay.

    Congratulations on the blog!

    • I’ve always liked the name Alice (fond associations with Alice in Wonderland–spunky heroine and hallucinatory story) and have been predisposed to like people in possession of the name. My brother’s wife is called Alice-Lee. We call her Al. (I think she’s okay with it.) Didn’t know you could be confused with a porn star. I wonder how she feels about being confused with a writer of the same name.

  5. Hi, my name is Tavis. So don’t know what you all mean…

    • It’s so tempting to make all of the usual incorrect assumptions. But for those of you who don’t know my brilliant landscape architect friend, that’s Ms. Tavis (rhymes with Mavis) to you. Nothing to do with that Smiley character. It’s a distinctive moniker if ever there was one.

  6. I tell a bunch of different stories about the origin of my name … and some of them are even true. I think “born in the 60s” sums it up best.

    I hated my name growing up–a source of constant teasing. And people often call me Gina or Gianna or Glenna. A while back I went out on a few dates with a guy who kept pronouncing my name wrong. I let it go to the point that it would have been too awkward to correct him, so I just stopped returning his phone calls and emails.

    I used to be the only Gienna on the Web, but now there are a handful of others. And yes, one of them is a porn-y model.

    My friends can call me “G” but the only people allowed to call me “GiGi” are all under the age of 7.

    ***
    Congrats on the blog, Reid! This was a fun post and I can’t wait to REID more. 🙂

    G

    • See, with every name there’s a story! Often lots of stories. I went through a phase of not liking having an unusual name. Around age 10 or 11, I told my mother I wanted to go by my middle name, Catherine. So she was greatly amused to call me Cathy for a day or two. And the rest of my life thereafter. Did anyone with an odd first name get a “backup” middle name?

  7. Growing up Kathy might seem easy enough. No trouble pronouncing or having to explaining it’s origins. However, it was never without a full set of follow up questions: With a C or a K? K. Katherine or Kathleen? Kathleen. Every time! Then there were always the people who knew someone else with it spelled the ‘correct’ way. Deep down I must have found some merit in having to grow up with such a common name that still needed explaining, or I am just a little passive-aggressive about it, since I named my sweet little baby girl Sarah…..with an h. 🙂

    • Now Catherine is my middle name. I always assumed (but never verified that assumption) I was given it in case I didn’t like having an unusual first name. Similarly, our sons have common middle names–just in case. But it’s always something, isn’t it? No one gets through life without having to spell or explain a first name!

  8. I’ve also got a “just because I liked it” name courtesy of my mother. Her choice of Shannon was not popular with my father who lived near a small town of the same name. He felt a place name was not an appropriate choice for his first born and his response was to call me Dodie.

    This quirky moniker, which stuck as my middle name, was selected because he just happened to be holding a book by Dodie Smith at the time of the argument. Not the 101 Dalmatians author but an astrologist who wrote about raising your child according to their star sign (can you tell I was born in the seventies?). At least he wasn’t reading Wilbur Smith.

    I’m mostly happy with my name which I think reflects my parents’ whimsical and contrary natures. Sometimes people ask if my family is Irish or they say “Ah Shenandoah”. Being mistakenly called Sharon is kind of boring and at school I was briefly called Cannon Fuse as my maiden name is Huse.

    Dodie raises eyebrows but I quite like having a different name and it’s good for a free drink if I bet people they can’t guess my middle name.

    Basically, I think I got off scot free in terms of teasing but then again I can’t stand that stupid high pitched song about the dog drifting out to sea.

    • Parents! Some of them are pretty darn whimsical in how they conduct a serious matter like the selection of a child’s name. Astrologer! But, as you say, you can be grateful your middle name isn’t Wilbur.

  9. My name is Emily. Slightly shy, slightly writerish daughter of an English PhD who loved 19th century poets. I.e., named after the reclusive Amherst poet. With bonus associations with reclusive Yorkshire novelist. Grew up loving both but taking pains to emphasize our differences. Then the nineties Emily child craze hit. Now name is just boring.

    I still love Misses Dickinson and Bronte. I have also begun to reconsider my position on being a recluse: what’s so bad about it, again?

  10. Rebecca is the name I was given due to a promise my father made to his sister. Before my parents even met there was another Rebecca growing up in Albuquerque NM and around the age of seven she was killed in a fire. After seeing his sister grief he promised her that if he ever had a daughter he would name her Rebecca and in 1968 he was able to fulfill this promise. When I learned of this it took me a little while to comprehend it but afterwards I felt honored to carry on for both of us.

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