The Name Game

When I was a kid, I always wished I had a name like Mark, a good common name that somehow seems to connote tall, dark, and handsome. Not surprisingly, I was short, husky, and freckled. My name was odd, the only instance of it in my small town that I ever heard of. Once in middle school, one of a group of friends who often came over and played basketball after school saw a carton of my parents’ cigarettes (“Doral” brand) and took to calling me Doral afterward, insinuating that my parents had named me after their smokes. That stung a little. I was later (indirectly) avenged, though, as that friend was made sport of at All County band rehearsal: One of the high schoolers, commenting on the friend’s really pretty hot mom, said that if his mom looked like that, he wouldn’t quit breast feeding until he was 20. It turned out that my name also rhymed with barrel and sterile, this last of which stuck. Being called Sterile Daryl (an assault on my, um, manhood rather than a nod to my cleanliness) really bothered me quite a bit, and I was glad to learn recently with the news that M’s having a baby that I am in fact not sterile. Or that the milkman’s not, maybe. A name that worked me up into an even greater lather was “Fried Dudley.” This moniker was hurled at me by a big red-headed bully in a childhood friend’s neighborhood. I never figured out where the name came from, but this guy (Tony, I think he was yclept) would lumber toward me, contorting his face and calling “Friiiied Duuddddley” in his best gravelly adolescent voice. I complained about this to my mom once, and she taught me the old saying we all know and loathe: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Tony begged to differ, suggesting that if he wrote “Fried Dudley” on a rock and threw it at my face, it’d sure hurt.

When you have a name like mine that’s not staggeringly common, it’s weird to have to say it. Marks and Johns have to say Mark and John all the time because 65% of the people they call by name on a daily basis are Marks and Johns. But there aren’t a great many Daryls, at least in my neck of the woods, so when I find myself having to say my name, it feels weird in my mouth and sometimes comes out sounding weird. There was a skit (I believe a recurring skit) on Kids in the Hall featuring a guy named Daryl, but it was pronounced “dah-RILL” rather than “DARE-ul,” and I’m glad, as that character was a weirdo, more socially inept than I like to admit I may be.

I’ve often tended to think of “Jason” as a very modern name because the kids named Jason tended to be cool or somehow very trendy and by extension cutting-edge and modern. It’s a very old name of either Hebrew origin (meaning “God is my savior”) or Greek origin (meaning “healer”) that has a fairly prominent place in mythology. If I couldn’t have been a Mark, I wouldn’t have minded terribly being a Jason.

My daughter’s name is going to be Lennon. That’s my middle name, after my grandfather who died when I was very young. My parents were fundamentally opposed to naming kids after family members because doing so stands to hurt the feelings of those whose names aren’t picked. But when I was on the way, my grandfather was very sick, and I believe the story goes that they hoped giving me his middle name would make him feel good. I don’t know that they thought it would heal him or anything (maybe if I were named Jason in the Greek tradition), but they thought he’d dig it. I’ve always liked my middle name. Sadly, none of my originally given names (more on that in a minute) can be pronounced without some joker piping up: “Daryl” (“Where’s your other brother?”) “Lennon” (“So’re you a communist?” [I don’t spell it for people until after they make this crack]) “Houston” (“Houston, we have a problem.”) All in all, I’m pretty happy with my whole given name, though; three good strong trochees are hard to beat.

Of course, shortly before I got married, I screwed that all up by infixing M’s name between my middle and last names. What I lost in trochees, I got back in spades in initials, though. It’s my two middle initials (or one middle and one of two lasts — complicated, huh?) that prompted me to call this blog “Two Ells.” I dig having two ells. I’m like J.R.R. Tolkien: D.L.L. Houston. The only real downside is that I get LL Cool Jay jokes, but those are pretty rare. But back to the reason I fiddled with my name. M felt kind of weird about changing hers. And not unreasonably so. She spent the first twenty-some years of her life with one name, and all of a sudden, just because we’re signing a document saying we’re officially recognized by the state as a couple, she has to go and change her whole name? Your name is your identity. Without it, people would have a hard time getting your attention in a crowd. I don’t blame anybody for feeling weird about making a change like that. It’s a bigger deal (if a less painful one) than chopping off your little toe or having your appendix removed. She tried to browbeat me into changing my name, or at least adding hers to mine, and I feigned disgust at the idea. Honestly, it did strike me as a little odd, emasculating in a way, as it’s a known fact that it’s the woman who changes her name. But I went through with it in secret and delivered the name-change documents to her for the holidays one year. I didn’t want to drop Lennon, though, so I just kept four names. Part of what’s cool about our having the same blended last names is that our kid can share our name without either of us having to drop our own. (As I live in Tennessee, I might have gotten around this problem altogether by simply marrying my sister, but alas, she was already spoken for by the time I came of age and means for marrying.) And not having a different name from our kids was the main thing keeping M from changing hers.

So I was pretty stoked when M proposed Lennon as the name for our little girl. Called Lennon Learn Houston, her name would be a subset of mine. Now I’m not all hung up on carrying on names and having things or people named after me (I could have cared less whether M changed her name to mine, for example), but it’s just cool to have a kid whose name is exactly three-quarters of your own. It’s not narcissism so much as a fascination as with little nesting dolls that turned me on to the idea of this name. But this nifty Vinn diagram of names wasn’t to be ultimately: M wanted to commemorate her treasured grandmother in the name of what will most likely be our only child, so she’ll be Lennon Louise Learn Houston. As she’s the one squeezing the baby out and all, I suppose M can claim a right to have the major role in naming our child. And while I’m not fond of the name Louise, I do think it’s cool that she’ll have not two, but three, ells and four initials, like her Pop.

Oh, and I almost forgot:

Daryl Daryl bo baryl
banana fanna fo faryl
fee fie mo maryl, Daryl

3 thoughts on “The Name Game

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