What’s in a Name?

Today’s writing prompt: If you had to switch your first name, what name would you choose and why?

On many of those occasions when I wished I were somebody else—anybody else—that included having a different name. Something cooler. Something that didn’t sound anything like me. Maybe a one-syllable name. But, I’m not a John, Tom, Dan, Rick, Keith, Tim, Jim, Jay, Ray, Bill, Rod, or Bob. None of those names would really fit me—although a high-school nickname, Lenn, somehow stuck.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a last name that isn’t so easily butchered. I’ve seen O’Conner rendered incorrectly in more ways than I can probably count without a decent calculator. (I’ve never understood what it is about names containing apostrophes, or starting with prefixes, that is so difficult for people. But that’s a rant for another day.) And don’t get me started on what happens when my last name, with its apostrophe, meets a computer system that hasn’t been programmed to accept “special characters” [sic].

In popular culture, Kevin is often the butt of jokes, or at least the source of amusing anecdotes. There’s the car commercial (Volkswagen, I think) in which one of the people utters the line, “You know Kevin”. In 1991, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Russell Baker called “The Kevin Excess“, in which Baker wrote about an apparently sudden glut of Kevins in the world. (He also quotes that same car commercial.) A Far Side-like one-panel comic shows two angels standing at the edge of a cloud, one with a bungee cord around his feet, reluctant to jump; the other angel is telling him something along the lines of, “For crying out loud, Kevin! You’re already dead!” Filmmaker Kevin Smith makes much of his living through self-deprecating humor, portraying himself as a lucky schlub who made it big, and making fun of practically everything about himself—especially his weight.

Then there’s the well-meaning Kabalarians, who believe that your name has a strong influence on the course of one’s life, and that, by changing your name to one that is “in complete harmony with your birth date”, you can realize your full potential. Pretty much every variation of my name I’ve run through their free name evaluation algorithms generates a report suggesting that my name is holding me back. I have actually considered a name change from time to time, especially whenever I’m in the middle of what a losing football franchise would euphemistically call a “rebuilding year”.

But, I could never bring myself to change it for real.

The thing is this: I’ve come to actually like my name. I think I’ve reached a point where I define my name, rather than the other way around. And I like that my last name is the less-common variant, even though it means I’m forever going to be stuck with most people getting it wrong unless I spell it out. Having to spell it out somehow appeals to my fondness for detail.

Yeah. I wouldn’t change my name. It’s not the Kevin way.

(7 November 2013)

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