What’s in a Name?

Published in May 2023 Brazos Monthly

My mother’s name was Quinda.

Where it came from nobody knew.  Not even her own mother, who provided it. It wasn’t a family tradition needing to be given to some unsuspecting infant as an obligatory tribute.  Her middle name was Othella.  God alone knows why. 

My grandmother was strangely eclectic when naming her brood; in addition to Quinda, the oldest, there were Garth, Fernie, Lynn (a male), Bert, and Ann. She’d finally arrived at normalcy there at the end of the line. 

My father’s mother (who I never knew, and wish I had; she died while he was serving overseas in the second world war) hadn’t done any better – with Willie (a female), Minnie, Gaston, Marvin, Georgia, Lester and Burton.  There was a John, also. Was it an unwritten rule to give just the one child in each family an ordinary name in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first few of the twentieth?

As a crew-cut, knobby-kneed lad up in Oakwood, my uncles’ names – Gaston, Bert, Garth, Burton, Marvin – sloshed around me like a cacophony of guttural grumblings.

My father’s first name was Lester and his middle name was Hoover.  My middle name is Nixon because that was my mother’s maiden name, which was the very reason my dad’s was Hoover. Beyond the fact that we were both so labeled some years prior to the elections of future presidents named Hoover and Nixon being slightly interesting (to me at least, never thus far to anyone else) my middle name has rarely been mentioned, even given the dubious doings of that particular president.

But my last name used to be brought up pretty often.  When learning that my name was Rozelle people would often ask “any kin to Pete?” referring to the long-time commissioner of the National Football League. But since he retired in 1989 and died a few years later I haven’t gotten that question in quite a while.

I’ve worked my way through several first names. 

Up in Oakwood I was Ronnie until I turned eighteen or so, whereupon I decided to be Ron, which I thought sounded a bit more dignified.  In the army, I ended up with the nickname Rozy, which elicited some grins and snickers from a few guys, until I reminded them that Rosey Grier, the retired NFL defensive linesman who wrestled to the floor and disarmed Sirhan Sirhan after he assassinated Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

It didn’t stop many of the snide remarks, but it made me feel a little better about my new handle.

When I reentered civilian life, I returned to being Ron.  Years later, when I was closing in on forty and my first book was published, my editor in New York thought Ronald Nixon Rozelle ‘tumbled trippingly off the tongue’ (he knew his Shakespeare) and suggested we put it on the cover. But I thought it came off as too haughty and figured that all those people who knew me as Ron would see it as presumptuous. So I told him we’d just stick with Ron, and keeping it for the long haul was my plan.  

Then, proving true the old maxim that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans, a final name came along with our grandchildren.

Now I also answer to Popi.

The subject of first names has always been interesting to me. You can legally change your name, of course, if it is so awful that you determine to just be rid of it.

But what would you choose?

Popes and Kings have carefully made their selections down the centuries. The current pope, who prior to his elevation was Jorge Bergoglio, opted for Francis, which was the first time in the two-thousand-year history of the Catholic church a pontiff chose to be named for Francis of Assisi.  Which I found remarkable, that saint being one of the most recognizable and beloved (his statue stands beside Karen’s and my front door). There have been twenty-three Pope Johns and almost that many Gregorys.

Eight Henrys sat on the English throne, and that many Edwards. But only one John, who historians rank as the worst British monarch ever and whose descendants have wisely kept the name as a one off.

If you have a new baby on the way, give careful consideration to the name you’ll saddle him or her with.

You’ll likely be held accountable for it a few years from now.

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