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May 29, 2024

The Name Game: Always to Blame

Do you wish you were a Chloe or Lance instead of a Madge or Adolph?

By Ed Goldman

Are you one of the many people who dislike their given names? 

Maybe you left this irritation behind you in childhood, since once you got into the working world, it really didn’t seem to matter if you were a Ralph, Morton, Beulah or Rimsky, did it? 

Edgy Cartoon

An either-O.R. situation

And if you achieved status in a variety of fields, no one reporting to you would even dare to use your first name. You’d be Doctor, Rabbi, Mother Superior, Maestro, Father, Chef or Warden.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this but I’ve never had a problem with my given name (Edward) though I’ve never used it professionally. “Ed” always sounded a little friendlier to me for a writer. Others that might’ve worked included Sam, Max and Fido.

Some people are convinced their given names define them. And, sure, if your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mantle, named you Mickey in honor of the Yankee legend, it’d be difficult to tell your proud folks that you hated baseball and instead intended to be a scrapbooking astrophysicist. 

On the other hand, if your German-American parents, Mr. and Mrs. Maus, named you Mickey, you might have grounds for a lawsuit someday.

My last name pretty much evokes my Jewish culture but my first name doesn’t. I mean, there just aren’t many O’Goldmans, MacGoldmans, Goldmanians or Goldmanopolises running around—not even in, respectively, Ireland, Scotland, Armenia or Greece.

But my given name is a bit more universal. Edward was the Prince of Wales who abdicated because he fell in love with American divorcée Wallis Simpson, who then doctored their family photos. (I may have my timelines mixed up). 

An “eddy” is a watery swirl that can cause a whirlpool. And Mr. Ed was (of course, of course) a talking horse. So my name has some cultural flexibility, whether as a self-deposing king-to-be, an aquatic vortex or an equine jokester with his own laugh track.

Granted, a lot of people you meet don’t look like their names should be Renée, Oscar or Cassie—especially when they look more like a Blanche, Boris or Larissa, respectively. 

But as a famous playwright once questioned, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” That was written by none other than Gordy Shakespeare. (Sorry. He just never looked like a William, Bill, Willy or Billy to me.)

When I was in junior high school, Carla MacDowell told me I looked less like an Ed than a Humphrey. Because I had a crush on her—as did half the student body, regardless of gender, orientation and whether a Fall or Winter person—the rechristening stung. The name Humphrey sounded a bit lumpy and desk-bound for a young man who dreamt he’d grow into a dashing foreign correspondent—or at the very least, a petty thief.

Looking for a Great Gift?

But in later years, as I became a fan of Humphrey Bogart, I revised my initial hurt and pretend/revised Carla’s assessment to mean she thought I was one cool customer. I even considered adapting Bogie’s distinctive speech peculiarity (“Lishen, Shweetheart—”) but found myself involuntarily spitting at girls I was trying to talk up. (Dr. Freud, feel free to jump in here at any time.) 

Finally, you may also despise your surname—especially if it’s Putin, Dracula or  Hitler, probably none of which should follow names like Susie, Skip or Dale—but that’s a topic for another column. Besides, I’m late for cocktails with Skip Dracula. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).