Friday, June 1, 2012

Naming Names

There is one lesser dividend of the Second World War that we frequently ignore, and we should not. We don't often recall that since 1945, few little boys have grown up encumbered by the name "Adolf".

Your name is one of the very first gifts that you received, and some of you, like me, might wish that your parents had kept the receipt.

My eldest brother is named Donald George, after my father's brother and my mother's. Our sister is called Xandra Fredress, in honour of both of our parents. Next on the list was James Edwin, after Mom's brother-in-law, and two of her uncles. I believe that John Alan was named for Dad's own father, but some of the family records are a bit spotty in places, and I've only ever seen our grandfather listed as "John".

I was the result of my parents' last erotic hiccup. Since it was middle of the nineteen-fifties, I suspect that one (or both) of them was drunk. Perhaps more than occasionally, destiny is that random. By the time that I arrived, our family had already fulfilled its obligations to all of our solvent male relatives, so our parents decided to name me after someone that they actually liked. My first name is Lee, and as an afterthought, they appended my father's given name of Alexander to it.

I've never found Shel Silverstein's song, A Boy Named Sue, particularly funny. Its premise hit too close to where I live. There was always some smart-mouth in school who was delighted to inform me that Lee was the name of his sister. Neither my uncle's bride, Rosalie, nor my sister-in-law, Leona liked their names, so they chose to abbreviate them...and guess what they were shortened to...

In a time when they might have pointed to examples like Lee Marvin or Lee J. Cobb as co-owners of my name, my classmates would generally remind me of Lee Harvey Oswald instead. Because it's difficult to shorten one-syllable names, mine has frequently been lengthened. It has been extended to Leo, Leon, Leonardo, Leroy and even Lee-man. I still wake up screaming...

A number of friends have tried to make me like my name better by telling me what it means; it is a protected shelter, the side turned away from the wind or the quarter to which the said wind blows. It is also the alternative spelling of lea, or meadow.

Somehow, I felt that that it would not be particularly useful to tell them that my brother Don's friend Lee (who my parents had actually liked) had been born in China, and his name means plum. Just keep that under your hats, okay?

Often, people will change names they don't like. I suppose it's a easy enough process. My Tall Lady, Sheral, was once a simple Susan, but apparently, the numbers didn't add up. I haven't considered it because I haven't ever found a name that I prefer. Also it's one of the more polite things that my siblings have called me. Finally, it's the name that my parents, in their folly, chose for me.

Besides, after all this time, maybe I'm getting used to it.

Good night, Marion Morrison, wherever you are.

1 comment:

  1. I feel your angst, Lee. I was named Jacqueline Mae and on meeting my future husband he tried his best to use my given name 'Jacqueline' but it just couldn't stick as I always went by 'Jacquie'. All these years later I like the sound of Jacqueline....hmmmm

    If it makes you fee any better I thought of Lee Marvin and not the less desireable name of LHOswald.