What’s in a name?
Plenty, especially if you’re Joe, Art, Bud, or any number of first-name-only people who have little or no regard for a surname. Let me explain.
Back in my military years, when I was doing six months of active duty with the Army Reserves, it wasn’t exactly fun and games.
To alleviate the plight of obstacle courses and gas chambers, we would look for some levity. It wasn’t what you may have seen in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” but close enough to our standards as genuine wimps.
One day, a platoon of soldiers was marching by and I says to my bunkmate, “You up for some fun?”
“What d’ya have in mind, stud?”
“I wonder how many of those guys in formation are named Joe? Bet you a five-note it’s at least five.”
“How can you tell?” he wondered, shaking on the wager.
With as loud a voice as I could muster, I yelled, “Hey, Joe!”
All of a sudden, four heads turned this way. Close, but no cigar. There might have been a fifth who didn’t flinch due to protocol, but that’s the way the name drops. I lost the bet but proved a point.
A namedropper is the only person who talks about others more than he does about himself.
Ordinary people as we see them are sometimes called by such long and unusual names in our social climate that you sometimes think a shorter, more common name might be better suited.
The other day on my answering machine, there was what sounded like an urgent message that sent me into a delirium. “It’s Art. Please call me right away.”
Art? Art who? I must know at least five or six chaps named Art? No last name. Not even the hint of a familiar voice. What was I to do?
Suppose I could start out by going to my directory and covering the alphabet. I didn’t want to be caught short of an emergency.
The first Art I called was a cousin. He and I haven’t spoken for months. The last time we did, it was excruciating. He gave me a rundown of his deteriorating medical history and it was pathetic.
“Hey, Art, you called?”
“No. But since you’re on the line, any way you can help me move? We’re changing houses and I’m a little short of labor.”
I feigned a bad back and quickly hung up, saying I had a call coming from my chiropractor.
The second Art was someone from my church who reminded me that I was tardy with my dues membership and had better get a check in the mail pronto. It wasn’t him.
I went through the list until I got to the very last Art and it turned out to be my brother-in-law telling me he was off to Florida and if we’d care to join him. Nice gesture, really. But I wasn’t ready to spend a grand on such a moment’s notice, especially with other trips planned.
I’ve often wondered about the nickname “Bud.” Was it short for Budweiser? Who would name their child after a beer?
Over the years, I’ve known several “Buds,” and I don’t just mean the garden types. One was named Alphonse, didn’t like Al, so he became known as Bud. Ethnic names can be real tongue-twisters. A guy I know named Hampartzoom went through life as “Bud” for business reasons.
People who address you as “buddy” or “pal” have their own reasons. It’s not that they’re being overly friendly, trust me. They’ve just forgotten your name.
An old editor of mine gave me this piece of advice when I first joined the newspaper industry. “A name is a person’s most sacred possession. Get it straight and treat it with respect.”
I have a sister-in-law named Hazel. When it came time to give her a name, there was all sorts of confusion in the immigrant family circle. They didn’t want her named after a nut.
If you don’t think names are confusing, try calling a law firm I do business with. Their shingle reads, “Cohen, Cohen & Cohen, Esquires.” Every time I call, it turns into a hassle.
“Which one?” the receptionist asks.
“The one with glasses,” I respond, wishing I had a first name.
A priestly acquaintance—I can never think of his name when I want to—doesn’t pose a problem every time we meet. I simply call him “Father.”
Getting back to Art and the repeated calls, had I known any better, I would have checked the menu on my telephone and seen the number. In case we haven’t met, just call me “Dummy.”