I re-wrote this, as I had several anecdotes spread around my blog posts. None of them were well-written and somehow I’m still not conveying the fun part of my name change.
Changing my name was one of the best, most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Don’t let the overtone of grouchiness overshadow that fact. It’s like when you get a new car and everyone wants to see it – except that one mean friend or family member who wants to comment how shoddily it was built.
When I changed my name, I wrote a letter to most of my family, letting them know, giving an explanation. I didn’t have too, of course, but I did. If they got a letter, it meant that I considered them family and close. Not being as dumb as expected, I knew that many people would decide I was crazy, resist, or ignore me. I was a weird person in general. There’s no use attempting to sugarcoat it. Normal wasn’t a word my friends would use to describe me. For most family members, my decision to change my name shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’d mentioned the desire many times during my early life.
My dad named me BobbyDean – one word. He didn’t want it split and he didn’t ask for the “Jr.” to be added to my name, as I was the second son. The hospital clerk made the changes. I was one of 2,347 “Bob / Robert” people in the family. He might as well have been following Johnny Cash’s lead and named me “Sue,” for all the confusion it caused.
Flash forward a few years. My dad died suddenly. Despite his good-natured ribbing about it, dad was okay with me changing my name. It amused him for several reasons. A couple of the family revisionists later foolishly tried to insist that he didn’t like me changing my name. It isn’t true, of course, and each time I hear anyone repeat the idiotic claim I pray for the ability to cause another person’s hair to spontaneously morph into a wombat. Dad laughed about me changing my name and told me at least twice he understood completely. About a month before his death when I visited him, he told me it wasn’t a great idea to give me his name, anyway, because no one used the right name and that there were too many Bobs, Bobbys, and Roberts in the family.
When the family put together the obituary together, they ignored me and my wishes… and those of my dad. They listed me as a “Jr,” with my birth name, both in the obituary and in the funeral arrangements. Instead of my legal name, the one on my driver’s license and birth certificate.
At the funeral, each person opened their handouts and read about my dad, a general description of his life, a list of family, etc. Except in my case, the people compiling the information decided that I wasn’t allowed to use my legal name, the one on my birth certificate, driver’s license and everything else in my life. They decided to ignore my wishes and put my birth name on everything, the name I had categorically rejected. They listed me with my birth name and “Jr.” on it, even though a few years had elapsed and they well knew it wasn’t a passing fad – and my dad’s opinion about it. So, at my own dad’s funeral, I was forced to work to ignore that my own family had given me a stupendous “F – U” middle finger with the obituary information, printed everywhere and in the newspapers.
When I returned home, my friends and co-workers were pissed at my “well-meaning family.” They couldn’t understand why family would be so demeaning to me at such a time in life. I couldn’t explain it to them, either. It was just stupid.
(Sometimes, people will say dumb things like “But you didn’t help pay for the funeral.” To which I reply: “Everyone knew dad wanted to be cremated. Are we really going to go down that road?” Does helping pay or not pay for a funeral give carte blanche to those who are paying to do and so whatever they want to?)
It was weird having people ask my name and me telling them “X” and that I was “Bobby’s son,” knowing that they wouldn’t know what the heck I was talking about if they used the obituary information.
Luckily, I was able to shrug it off at the time as a classic demonstration of stupidity, perhaps even misguided family honor. In the case of one family member, I still consider it malice, based on her words about it- and her ongoing insistence on being sanctimonious about it. I know all of us had just lost a family member and everyone gets a pass to a degree about what they say and do around such sadness and grief. But in my case, it was deliberate, not something brought about by cloudy grief. My dad died several years after I changed my name – it wasn’t the month before or even a year before.
That a couple of my family members decided to pull such a stunt reminded me of how petty and sanctimonious people will be. And to try to not let it poison my opinion of unrelated things in my life.
I’ve written before about some of my trouble with people being spiteful about my name change. The key component is whether a person is trying to acknowledge that he/she knows my name is X. I’m not belligerent about someone who forgets or who switches back and forth between “X” and my birth name. (Despite what some of the revisionists still try to claim.) I will let infrequent or occasional mentions of my old name go by without even a raised eyebrow. I’m not referring to people who knew me when I was very young and who weren’t around me afterwards.
I apologize for sounding grouchy. But imagine if random people in your life decided to call you “DonkeyBreath.” Let’s say it happened because you once had bad breath. But you fixed your teeth and fixed the problem. Fast forward 20+ years to a time where certain people still call you DonkeyBreath. Whether it is by name in an obituary, in church, on the phone, or shouted across the parking lot. Try as you might, as politely as you ask, people still call you DonkeyBreath. They do this even though they know that you still find it offensive. What kind of people are these exactly?
But I will give you a real example which demonstrates how spiteful some people can be. At church near my hometown, a family member was telling a story that involved me. She called me by my name, of course: X. My Aunt Ezra (name changed to protect the guilty) turned toward her and spitefully said “You mean Bobby!” The first family member turned toward and said “No, I mean X !” The key component of this story is that Aunt Ezra not only tried to intimidate someone in public at church, but also was showing deliberate spite about my name, decades after I changed it. Is this what you would describe as good behavior? It’s fine, though, as I practiced some spite of my own. During more than once church discussion, I’ve used my aunt’s name to talk about behavior I don’t like.For words such as “pious, sanctimonious, or hypocritical.”
(No one who knows me, works with me, or interacts with me, etc calls me anything except X.)
My birth name sounds stupid to me and to my wife. I don’t turn when people yell “Bobby” behind me. It’s alien to me. People who are in my daily life just don’t “get” why people would be stupid enough to persist in using the wrong name. To everyone except the offenders, it is immediately obvious that a factor of disrespect and rudeness is motivating people who try to call me by my birth name. When my wife and I get around family members who don’t even try to call me by name, it gets tedious and annoying very quickly. If I am not noticing it, my wife does. I appreciate her trying to ignore it and I also appreciate it when she finally has had enough and starts questioning people. It annoys her, too. We do the right thing – we never go on the attack about it. However, when enough abuse about it has piled up, we start politely pointing out the error with the name. If I choose to start disengaging and walking away, no one is going to tell me that I’m the one being rude. I’ve asked, asked again, made videos, asked again, explained and asked again. Many outsiders hear it or hear of people doing this to me and ask why I tolerate it, especially why I continue to put up with it for so many years.
“It’s not a big deal” or “You take it too personally” are both weak and rude ways to say that my feelings and right to be who I am doesn’t matter. “You shouldn’t be rude like that” is another way of attempting to mitigate other people’s rudeness at choosing to ignore my wishes. “Don’t be an ass about it” is a another idiotic method to insist that I don’t have a right to be irritated in the face of decades of this abuse. And believe me, it is abuse. The choice is yours whether to honor my right to be who I am or to engage in interpersonal warfare by convincing yourself that you are being anything less than an ass by calling me by a name that hasn’t been my name for over 2 decades. Well over 2 decades. Whatever claim my birth name once had over my life is surely long dead. Now that both my mom and dad are gone, it is more comical and depressing than ever that there are doofuses who still deliberately use the wrong name.
Several years ago, I made a video with captioned pictures, set to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings. I sent it to several people and posted a copyright-free version to Facebook. Online, people laughed and laughed, all giving me praise for my lighthearted effort to get my point across. Many were incredulous that family members were still being so mean and thoughtless so many years after the name change. Several people went so far as to message or tell me directly that if they were in my shoes, they would disown anyone who continued to be mean to me about it, ESPECIALLY after I had put hours of work into the dvd explaining my point of view. They could tell that for many of my family members, I had asked them nicely up to 100 times. That’s beyond what anyone would claim to be reasonable. I had family screaming at me, sending angry emails or causing public rifts about it. I guess I don’t need to keep mentioning that – any family that would go so far as to publish the wrong name in another person’s obituary needs to seriously examine what kind of people they are. On those frequent occasions when my mom would get both angry and drunk, she would lash out about my name.
My wife, her sister and her mom all knew me by my birth name when I was younger. None of them had any real problem treating me like I deserved to be respected in regards to my name. Neither did my childhood best friend, several of my close cousins, all my co-workers, etc. Several of these people knew me by my birth name and had just as much claim toward difficulty toward adapting to my new name as anyone else did. But it didn’t occur to any of them to be an ass and try to be mean about it. That tells me that either some of my family members aren’t good people or just didn’t really care about me as an individual.
You have to try to respect me for who I am, even if your are convinced I’m a fool. If you want to interact with me, I meant. If you don’t like me or my name, then don’t feel obligated to pretend to – as none of us have enough time left in life to waste it on people who don’t really matter to us. Move along and have a good, rich life without me in it. You can’t claim to like or love me and still stupidly insist on calling me by the wrong name.
I only write about it because even though I now have lived over 1/2 my life as X, there are still “loved ones” in my family who still call me “Bobby.” They are getting to be rarer now, and not just due to time and age catching up. Rather, it gets old trying to defend such an indefensible attitude. They know they were wrong but can’t lash out much about it now, given that other family members will call them out on it. That wasn’t always the case.
People get a pass for a while, a year. Even 10 years. But 25? I don’t think so.