Sunday, November 26, 2006


I’m grateful to my parents for giving me a normal name: William George. Also, my brother got a normal name: Michael Joseph.

I mentioned this to my mom and she said it had been a concern; she and my dad did not want to burden their kids with unusual names that could draw teasing in the early grades of school.

Three of those four names were associated with relatives or cronies. I think both of my names packed double whammies. Once my mom cautioned me that there were two Williams out there, one my godfather, the other an uncle by marriage, who both thought I was named after them.

Joseph was my dad’s name. Michael was the unattached name. I think they chose it because it’s so normal and so strong.

We Catholics are supposed to be named after Catholic saints. Anyway, there was for me the idea that one’s name connected one to famous people in history with the same name.

For instance, William the Conqueror, Saint George the dragonkiller, Michael the Archangel, Joseph and Mary.

Actually, the story of St Joseph, husband of Mary and stepfather to Jesus doesn’t sound like much fun. I wonder if poor St Joseph’s predicament has ever been used to satirize the Christ story.

But before him, another Joseph got a coat of many colors, and pissed his brothers way off. And he went to Egypt, too. [These poor Jews with asses and foot power made it to Egypt on a regular basis and our fucking president-to-be couldn’t hop a 707 to Europe. – P. Wilson.]

People tell me I look a little like William III, above.

What made me think of this was the heartbreaking picture of two young boys who went missing on a Native American reservation. The older one was four years old with big plump cheeks; his name was Tristin.

The first Google hit says it’s related to “Tristan,” the Arthurian knight of the Tristan and Isolde story, and it might have the word for “sad” as its root. They say it’s a boy’s and girl’s name.

I think that was a criterion for my folks: the name had to clearly indicate the sex of the child.

Then there’s the boy-named-Sue approach, or the ancestral approach which propagates Clarences and Sebastians and Aloysiuses. A name is something worth fighting for.

The second syllable of Sebastian is very harsh to an English speaker’s ear. And there aren’t good diminutives. And St Sebastian is the guy with all the arrows stuck in him so homoerotically.

One of the great names from the history of baseball is Tris Speaker.

The name Tristam didn’t get in the way of a lifetime .344 average. So I guess I’m full of shit.

One of the funniest things I ever said was at work in UCSF’s Accounting Office. A young, shy, first-generation Chinese American girl was very pregnant with her first child and would soon be on leave.

“Faye,” I said, “I’ll give you ten dollars if you’ll name your son “Bill.”

She had to think for awhile (to realize I was joking) before she smiled and shook her head, no.

“Ok,” I said, “a hundred dollars.”

It’s true, though, we’ll have a president named Barak, long before we ever have one named “Timothy,” or “Tristin.”

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