All of us have given names but many of us have nicknames as well. These monikers are generally friendly and endearing but sometimes they can be less than flattering. But our formal names bestowed at birth have significance as well.
I am named after my father who was nicknamed Whitey. This was a natural for him in that he was blond haired and fair complected. To distinguish between us I was called Sandy, reflecting my complexion and hair. It was the only name I ever knew until I reached school age and realized I had a more formal name.
In first grade I was made aware by my peers that Sandy was a girl’s name. So for second grade I informed my parents that going forward I wanted to be referred to as Merrill. Merrill sounded imposing and masculine to me. My parents tried to reason with me about the name Sandy, even referencing Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. None the less my mind was made up. Merrill was strong and unique. So what if I had to spell both my first and last name for the rest of my life. It was worth it for peace of mind.
That peace of mind was shattered a few years later. In the newspaper astronaut Al Worden was shown being hugged by his children after just completing a space misssion. One of these children was his daughter…named Merrill! I found out that Al Worden’s middle name was Merrill and that his dad’s name was Merrill but that didn’t stop him from giving that name to his daughter. I wanted to write him a letter and admonish him for tainting the masculinity of Merrill but he was a national hero so I decided to cut him some slack.
As I grew older I had some nicknames bestowed upon me, some of which are still used by my friends. One is Coach, given me by my best friend referencing the basketball coaching I did while I was in college. Another is Big M, referencing the fact that well.. I’m a big guy and unfortunately getting bigger. I’m 6’2″ and weigh two hundred and…well you get the picture. Most recently a friend of mine’s daughter and niece started calling me Merbear. Actually I kind of like that one. It makes me sound cuddly.
One I didn’t like was Albino Boy. Yes I am fair complected. If you shine a light on me you can probably see all my internal organs. As a teenager I got hit with that alias and it was a bitter pill. They even made up some songs to go with the name. They actually were pretty clever. No I am not going to give you the lyrics. Four years of serenading was plenty.
I still like Merrill. It has a singularity to it like Pele, Madonna, etc. Many of my friends are referred to by their last names but that seldom happens to me. I was always just Merrill. On the rare occasion that someone has called me Wautlet it has always sounded odd.
Of course I must tell you that Merrill isn’t for everyone. I actually have a cousin named Merrill. He is six months older than me and he is named after my father as well. My mother’s brother, my Uncle Jake, was close with my dad so he named his newest son Merrill. In his defense this was his sixth child by his third different wife. He had two kids with each wife. I just assumed he was running out of names. He is actually a story unto himself. Two of his wives were named Laverne and Shirley, but I digress. Growing up I was Sandy and my cousin was Merrill. Then I became Merrill and to my shock Merrill became ..Charlie!
Now Charles was my father’s middle name so it was our middle name too. Apparently my cousin felt Charlie was a better name for him. Now of course the family was utterly confused. They were constantly calling both of us by the wrong names and then correcting themselves. “Not you Sandy, I mean Merrill, I was calling for Merrill, uh I mean Charlie. Jesus Christ why did you boys go and do this? It’s too damn confusing!”
I went to college and later migrated to banking. My cousin is a rock and roll musician who plays in night clubs all over the south but mainly in the French Quarter in New Orleans. He doesn’t own a bank account, smokes and drinks, and stays up until 4:00 A.M. every night. He has never been sick.I on the other hand have so many surgical scars that all I have to do on Halloween is take my shirt off. Maybe he was right all along about Merrill.
By the way I have a son named Merrill too. I call him M.C. But that is another story.