At Least I Didn’t Name Anyone Alfred

I hate my name. I have hated my name my entire life. In fact, I hated my name even before I was born. When my mother was pregnant she carried me for ten months — I knew what was waiting for me and I didn’t want to come out. In my childhood I was often compared to Batman’s butler. When I pressed my parents to explain why they named me Alfred, they said I was crazy for not liking the name, that is was a fine name and that there were plenty of exceptional men named Alfred.

“There was King Alfred the Great,” they would say, “and Alfred Hitchcock.”

I waited for a few more examples, but they pretty much emptied their quiver on those two names. Of all the trillions of people that have lived on this planet I get a King of England and a British film director. They weren’t even Americans.

One time in grade school, as our substitute teacher read through the attendance list, he paused, laughed out loud, and then read my name. That sort of stuff stays with you.

So when the time came to name our kids I was particularly sensitive to what their names would be. I would make sure there were no foolish nicknames that could be derived from their names or that their initials did not spell out some offensive body part.

With my daughter, I always liked the name Amanda. Arlene (ex-wife) and I also thought about Elizabeth and Emily but Amanda had a nice, old-fashioned feel to it. Plus, paired with my mother’s name, Rose, we thought it was unique.

I was wrong about that.

After 12 hours of labor and relentless pushing Arlene was whisked away and a cesarean was performed. Amanda Rose had entered the world. A day or so later I was in the hospital elevator returning to the nursery. Standing on either side of me were two people, both holding flowers with silver Mylar balloons attached. Written on both was “It’s a Girl!“ and as I glanced at the cards pinned to each arrangement I saw the newborns’ name: Amanda Rose. I didn’t know either of these people and when the elevator doors opened, we each stepped out; one set of flowers went left, one went right, and I moved straight ahead to the nursery. So much for being unique.

* * *

I always liked the name Alex so when our second child was due we decided he would be named Alexander. We used Arlene’s father’s name as a middle name — Alexander James is a very strong name. As Arlene’s contractions grew closer they wheeled her from the hospital room to the delivery room. It was quite a sight seeing Arlene, her legs lifted high-and-wide as they raced her down the hallway; her flimsy white blanket billowed in the breeze and waved to the people nearby as if to say, “Hey, look at me!” Once inside the room the nurses turned and walked away and we were left alone. As we waited, and with Arlene between contraction, I looked around the small room we now found ourselves. There was a glass door that led to another room. Just on the other side of the glass there was a sign with a list of instructions. If ever given the chance to provide feedback to the hospital, I would strongly recommend that the sign be removed.

It was instructions on what to do if the baby is not born alive.

With that image now planted firmly in my brain a doctor came in, Arlene started pushing, and in a relatively short time (for me, not Arlene) the doctor was holding our son. He looked like a huge rubber doll, and he wasn’t making a sound. The doctor turned and placed him on a table as another doctor rushed in. Their bodies shielded us from our newborn. It might have only been a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity before I heard him cry. I didn’t know then, but this was typical for Alexander — even today it takes a real effort to get him to make a sound.

Ironically, I have never in his entire life called him Alex. I have never called him Al, either. Under any and all situations and circumstances, I call him Alexander.

* * *

When our third child was about to be born we realized we had situation — so far, all our names began with “A.” This led to everyone throwing out A-name suggestions. The obvious one was Andrew, which is Arlene’s twin brother’s name, but I didn’t want him to think we named the child after him (sorry, Andy). Besides, I didn’t want to be that family that everyone’s name began with the same letter. Someone then suggested Zach so that our names would go from ‘A’ to ‘Z’. It was quickly voted down.

Even after he was born, we didn’t have a name. A little while later a nurse handed him to me along with a little-blue-card that I was to fill out and then take him down to test for jaundice. By then Arlene and I had landed on a name. I went down for the test, handed the baby over, and then started to fill out the card with his new name.

“M-I-C-H-“ After that I was stumped, was it “-ael“ or “-eal“. I was too embarrassed to ask so I decided it wasn’t a good sign if I could not spell my own son’s name. I went back and told Arlene we would have to come up with something else.

That night I went home, made some phone calls, and then took a long delayed shower. As the water splashed my face the song “Daniel“ by Elton John played on the radio. Daniel? That was a good name. Daniel Joseph (Joseph was my father’s name). Strong. D.J. — even good initials. When I went back I told Arlene, and she liked it.

Once again I was handed that dreaded blue card. Confidently I started to write:

“D-A-N-“ and then I panicked again — was it “-iel“ or “-ial“? Determined not to look foolish (again) I jotted down “I-E-L” and hoped for the best.

I think my kids all like their names — no panic attacks when substitute teachers giggle while taking attendance. Although exceptions have been made for people I grew up with, or family members, I don’t like to be called by my full first name. Using it in the title of this post may be a good first step toward acceptance. But until then there is a simple solution if I were to run into you on the street or at a party:

You can call me Al.

A version of this post was previously published on and is republished here with permission from the author.


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