Monday, March 2, 2015

What’s In A Name

Have you ever been accused of not knowing how to spell your own child’s name? Did you spell it uniquely because you wanted it to be as special as your child? Was the unique spelling meaningful in some way? Or do you have a name which represents something important to your parents or heritage. Does it hold the same value to you?

I wrote my first short story when I was 10. Titled: The Arena, it was one notebook page long--no paragraph breaks--and told the “story” of a fictional, futuristic coliseum where mutants fought for the amusement of a “brain-in-a-jar” emperor on a holiday called “dependence day.” Symbolism aside, it was special to me; the story represented a step towards my dream of being a writer. One of the characters--and the only one named, directly--was a mutant lizard man who went from being the underdog in the fight to the champion, and hero, at the end of the story.

The name stayed with me for years after. It was the name I used for a mutant lizardman with a poison stinger-tipped tail in a role-playing game called Gamma World. I briefly toyed with changing my own name to it, legally, while I was in middle school. In high school, I had the name engraved on my class ring.

Forward to 1991, my wife and I are expecting our first child. My amazing wife agrees to let me give the name to our firstborn son. My thoughts are: he will be as unique as his name and he will overcome obstacles like his namesake in that arena story. He was born one month early and spent his first week of life under an oxygen tent in NICU because his lungs weren’t fully developed. At the end of that week the doctor took the tent off, saying our son needed to breathe on his own, or he never would. After a tense and tearful couple of hours he did breathe and today I cannot remember the last time he was sick. He is as “healthy as a horse,” my Papaw would say. He did overcome his own titanic battle, and has become quite a man.

The name has presented it’s own challenges over the years. Many people pronounce it incorrectly and when we correct them, some get it and some don’t. A relative accused me of not knowing how to spell my own son’s name when she got the birth announcement (my wife and I still laugh about that one today, 24 years later.) Some teachers didn’t get it as well, and early on, I determined not to fight it if my son didn’t want to embrace the uniqueness of the name; the sentiment attached to it was mine, not his; although, I did give him my old class ring to keep (it had his name on it, after all). But he did embrace it in his own way and even he corrects people on the pronunciation.

Today, I see a lot of unique names around. And many parents naming their children with unusual spellings and pronunciations. Is it a form of rebellion against the naming conventions of the past, is it the beginnings of a change for the future? I wonder how many parents are trying to imprint a uniqueness on the child and how many have a story like mine, a name that came from a special source and they wish to pass it on through the family.

Every child is unique and special, ask any parent (or Shakespeare.) Its not the name; the name is just a brand, the being makes the difference. What the child is and what they become determine their uniqueness, not the hopes, dreams and wishes we lay on them when we write on their birth certificate.