Of names and nicknames

IMG_5165The choice of a child’s first name is an important endeavor because very often the chosen name will play a part in shaping the adult.
But in America it is often turned into a cheap joke that demeans the bearer of that name.

My given name is Alain. It’s a common name in France and I am grateful that my parents bestowed such a simple, unpretentious name on me.
Among famous people bearing that name, you have Alain Delon, Alain Prost, Alain Vigneault, Alain Resnais, Alain Ducasse, Alain Chapel, etc.

But unforeseen problems with this name started shortly after my arrival in the United States. Well intentioned but misguided people took it upon themselves to call me “Al”. I am sorry to say that this initiative didn’t sit well with me. I won’t tolerate any abbreviations or cute sounding nicknames.
Alain I was born and Alain I shall remain, until death us part.

Incidentally, I was also booked in hotels and planes as Miss Eileen.

I have never understood the masochistic self-mutilation that Americans inflict upon their names. A noble sounding Charles becomes Chuck, Abraham becomes Abe, William becomes Bill… What’s the matter with you Yanks?
Are you so self conscious about ancient and honorable names that you need to drag them into the gutter to make it more palatable to your trashy friends?

Even more annoying than this odd practice, is the adding of a suffix after a surname. The addition of “the Second, Third or Junior” after any name, reeks of vulgarity, but unfortunately it has not deterred people from doing it.

Using initials is also a great American tradition. PJ’s, CJ’s, JR’s are now swarming through the land and begging to be sprayed and eradicated.
I am surprised that the American media did not call Pope John-Paul “JP”. It’s more familiar sounding and cuddly than John-Paul isn’t it?

The creation of odd surnames is also very disturbing. Naming somebody “Chastity” for instance is courting troubles.
Is there a shortage of old and glorious names? Do we need to be so backwardly creative? I don’t think so.

I know of a man who was called Chucky when he was a chubby toddler.
He grew up to be an imposing six-footer and realized that Chucky was not a suitable name anymore. He asked his friends and acquaintances to start calling him Chuck.

After years of hard work, Chuck became an accomplished opera singer and decided to revert to his baptismal name of Charles.
Charles did well in the operatic world and developed a particular fondness for Italian arias. Being in the constant company of Italian composers and artists and suddenly remembering his fading Italian ancestry, he decided that Carlo would be a more appropriate name for an Opera singer than Charles.
And so, it passed to be that Chucky begat Carlo.
I don’t mind this backwards progression; as a matter of fact I applaud it.

Demagoguery might work well for politicians but it can be condescending and even insulting.
“My name is William Robespierre Beauregard, but since we obviously don’t come from the same background, you can call me Bill and I’ll continue to call you Chico”.
How does that strike you?

My advice to you: if you were born William (an ancient and glorious name), don’t cheapen it to be more popular.
I doubt very much that upon becoming king of England, Prince William will agree to be called King Bill.

Popularity is fleeting, good names are not.


PS: You can also read some of my stuff here

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