My parents were staunch traditionalists, especially when it came to naming their children. They didn’t go for names that were fancy or cutesy or faddish. There’s no Moon Unit among my siblings, no Xenon, no Turbo, no Cricket. Mom and Dad preferred good, solid, traditional names — preferably something with family ties.
For example, my eldest sister, Jean Ellen, was named for my mom’s mother. My second sister, Helen Jo, was named for my dad’s mother. My third sister, Wanda Lynne, received her mother’s name — much to Mom’s chagrin (Mom didn’t much care for her name — “The only thing that goes with Wanda is witch,” she would say — but when Dad took his third daughter before the church congregation and declared that her name “upon the records of the church” would be Wanda Lynne well, there wasn’t anything Mom could do about it, except not speak to Dad again until about nine months before their next child was born).
Oh, and my youngest sister, Kathryn Ann, was named for well, I don’t know who Kathy was named for. But it’s a nice, solid, traditional name, don’t you think?
Among my brothers and I, the naming was similarly traditional — with one interesting paradox. My eldest brother was Bud Jr. — I’ll bet you can guess who he was named for. Then came Richard Arrowsmith, whose middle name is Mom’s maiden name. Then came Robert Max, whose middle name is a tribute to one of Dad’s brothers, who died as a teenager (a fact that frightened Bob until he got past his teenage years). And then there’s me, named for both of my grandfathers, who shared the name Joseph.
Which brings me to that paradox. Given my parents’ propensity for using family names, and given the fact that both of their fathers were named Joseph, why did it take them four sons before they finally got around to naming one of their boys Joseph?
Not that I mind. I’ve always liked my name. It’s you know solid. But I can’t help but wonder why Dick wasn’t Joe. Or, at the very least, why Bob wasn’t.
“It’s because we were saving that name for you,” Dad said sweetly when I finally got around to asking the question. Unfortunately, Dad was in his late 80s at the time and could barely remember his own name, let alone the reason for mine. Mom would have given me a straight answer (Mom was famous for her straight answers — and her fried chicken), but by the time it occurred to me to ask the question, she had been gone for 15 years.
I’ve asked other, older members of the family, and the best explanation they could come up with is this: Mom and Dad figured they took care of the Joseph situation with Helen’s middle name, Jo. But if that were true, what made them change their minds when I was born? Why wasn’t I named William (a traditional Arrowsmith family name) or Henson (a traditional Walker family name) or Lyle (the name of the man to whom Mom was engaged when she met Dad — which wouldn’t have happened in a million years, but it would have made for a great story).
So I’m left with a genealogical paradox for which there is no meaningful answer. And yes, I know — it isn’t that big of a deal. Most of the people on this planet manage to slog their way through day after day without knowing why they have the names they have. But it’s frustrating to think that I could have known this little grain of truth from my personal and family history had I only thought to ask the question when the people with answers were still around.
How about you? I’ll bet there’s something you’d like to know from your history — a name, a date, a place, a reason why. If the people with answers are still around, call them today. It’s likely that you’ll both enjoy the conversation, and you’ll probably learn something interesting about yourself and your family that you didn’t know.
And who knows? You might even eliminate a paradox.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com.