In the beginning my folks created Robert. They argued over the name: my mom liked William while my dad, lover of ancient epic tales of bravery in battle, wanted to call me Paris. Settling on Robert, they called me that until their separate inevitable deaths. I can hear my dad calling me with love in his voice, however when my mom called, there was generally more force to her enunciation, “Raw-Burt!”
Even though Robert is displayed on my birth certificate, throughout my school career I was called Bob. That name is written on many of my school report cards beside teacher comments. On some trophies Bob Thompson would be listed as the recipient. To my recollection my parents never made a point of correcting the engraving. They were both always proud, as parents must be, with whatever I could accomplish. My first wife and all her family called me Bob since the pattern seemed set by the time I graduated university.
I’ve often wondered if a person becomes the name they are given. Bob is a run of the mill sort of name and I think that’s what I am: pretty basic. Both my first and last names are quite common yet I’ve never felt insignificant. Some friends have given me nicknames like Tommygun, Artie and Berto; all having a certain flair about them that makes me feel momentarily proud. My auntie has always called me Rob, which makes me smile. Shakespeare spoke of a rose by any other name, suggesting that it is the spirit that matters more than any artificial appellation.
Some cultural traditions allow for formal naming ceremonies at various stages in life. My present wife was once given a tribal name and I’ve always envied her for that honour. It would be awesome, but a bureaucratic nightmare, if we could switch names when we felt moved by circumstance to state we had gone beyond our birth name. In my case, after a bout of depression brought on by a midlife crisis, I opted to announce a return to my original name. I told my work colleagues and friends that I preferred Robert over Bob. I wanted to take a bit of my past into my future, eliminating the tag of my middle years. Drawing that distinction still makes sense to me.
Artists sometimes go by other names. Whether to protect, disguise or otherwise play around with their identity makes no matter to me. What a nom de plume conveys is an adventurous spirit; one who is willing to admit they are individuals with many facets. William Porter blossomed as O’Henry, Samuel Clemens had to find Mark Twain, Engelbert triumphed over Arnold, Calvin needed Snoop Dog, Lady Gaga outgrew Stephani.
Being AKA (not the rapper) has its benefits, sort of like dressing up for halloween. Having someone supportively comment that you look or act differently can be refreshing. I chose my Twitter handle @wh0n0z with that in mind: I can be the wise one who knows or, alternatively, the one to exclaim with a wink, “Who Knows?”