What’s in a Name?

backhomethinkingI’m starting a new chapter in my life, thinking about fundamental changes in what I want, what I value, what I wear, how I relax, where I live, what I do, who I am.

So its logical that my mind wandered to my name: Dave

There’s a funny thing about traveling by yourself across the country. You pull into some city and spend an evening. You meet a bunch of people, hang out and chat, then blow out in the morning. You meet folks that are doing the same thing, blowing in and out of town. You meet each other, share some stories, and you never see each other again. Your names, it turns out, are kind of a convenience, so you don’t call each other “guy in the red shirt” or “the short lady wearing glasses”. For instance, when I write my blog, I always change the names of the characters. For that matter, if I don’t write them down in my notes, I would have no idea what people’s actual names were. Names, it turns out, don’t matter a whit.

So I started experimenting, introducing myself with different names. It was rather freeing. Different names gave ME different feelings, a different self-image. Now, if I was tired, I would use Dave, so not to mess it up. But I started testing; between simple and complex, foreign and local sounding. It was a very interesting experiment.

Actually, for a few days I also experimented with giving an entire false biography, saying I was retired from a job that I knew enough about from a client, a neighbor, or an old friend. I said I was a retired school teacher, or a retired manufacturing engineer, or a retired accountant. Nothing crazy like sharp shooter or astronaut. It turns out that story didn’t matter either, but giving a false biography actually felt like lying, and it soiled the evening’s conversation for me. I eventually couldn’t talk about any shared experiences beyond the most generic (grew up in Michigan, retired to Florida, on motorcycle trip). So I continued to experiment with my name, but decided to stick to the honest details of my life history.

In my life I’ve known dozens of Dave’s. Every high tech company I’ve worked at has had anywhere from 3 to 7 computer programmers named Dave. Never any lead salesmen that wear a Rolex watch and drive a Lexus; hardly any Vice Presidents with reserved parking spots. Just nerdy computer programmers.

To a man they were 50 to 150 pounds overweight and wore glasses. They told stupid jokes and snorted when they laughed. They all fell stony silent and looked at the floor whenever a woman joined the group. They wore polyester pants and v-neck sweater vests and comfortable square toed shoes. And so did I. I recently found a box stuffed with my old V-Neck sweater vests.

Frankly, I’m just tired of being “Dave”.

So I started trying new names. Ron, and Jim, and Dan. But it was just more of the same; too simple, no panache, no self talk.

I tried some two syllable names, but would forget halfway through: Reggie, Danny, Gary. I honest to God tried Reginald, thinking three syllables and a foreign sound would be the cat’s pajamas. But that night was simply comic.

So I rolled it around and around in my head during the day, tearing apart the issue, doing another engineered needs analysis. I decided it should start with “D”. This way if I decide to adopt the name permanently, my initials (and towels and cufflinks) will stay the same. Nobody would bat an eye if a guy called “Richie” or “Dick” his whole life one day said “I’d rather be called ‘Rich’, it changes my self image”. But “David” always sounded too Jewish to me (King David, Mogen-David).

Anglo Davids, to my ear, always felt like a Dave trying to sound hoity-toity. Men that are introduced as David are sometimes accidentally called Dave in conversation and their wives quickly say “oh no, he’s David”. She hurries to correct you so that he doesn’t fume all night, then smack her around when they get home. I’m just not a David.

0928namesI started taking pictures of those little kid’s license plate stands in the tourist shops, focusing on the “D” section. All day long I would refer to myself mentally as “Derrick”, but at night it would catch in my throat. Same for “Dick”. Both “Darrin” and “Darryl” were too soft.

Though a long humorous anecdote, I hit upon “Duncan”. Duncan was a main character in MacBeth, which we studied in high school. MacDuff, MacBeth, and King Duncan. Flee, Fleance echoed in my head every day as I silently referred to myself as Duncan. Most importantly, at night it would roll off my tongue easily, and my head would snap instinctively when someone called my new name.

So I became Duncan.

King Duncan was supposed to be a wise leader, a strong warrior, yet empathetic and caring. He was well loved by his subjects and men. When people called me Duncan (Hey Duncan, you want a refill?) it was them reminding me I was all those things: strong, wise, empathetic, and caring.

It would be absurd to hire a squire to follow me around whispering in my ear “Remember, Dave, you are a wise leader, compassionate to the humble”. Yet, by introducing myself as Duncan, each person I spoke with did just that. I started to enjoy peppering my conversations with their names, just to hear them use mine. I proudly wrote Duncan on my “Hello my name is” sticker. And lots of guys use their middle names so their credit card may say “Peter” but they say “call me James”. Its rare, but not unheard of.

When somebody stuck around long enough, usually a second day, I would reveal my Dave / Duncan story, my nerdy high tech work history, and my “whats in a name” / self-image thought process. Each of these women completely understood and were enthusiastic in their support. Not a one thought my actions questionable or strange. Universally, there was delight that I was taking control over my life, defining the terms that the world would view me.

I was, however, too shy (or embarrassed?) to ever tell a fellow male traveler. Actually, its a little intimidating to even come out with this story here. But each anonymous woman, without missing a beat, continued to call me Duncan, never chastised me or made fun. Did woman understand? Or would everyone just shrug and save whatevs?

For that matter, is being “Dave” like a tiny zit on prom night, a molehill fussed over and imagined into a mountain, taking on an outsized life of its own.

I’ll figure that out later. First, let me introduce myself.

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