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What’s in a name?

A lot, I think. Last Thursday, before the whirlwind weekend that was Jay & Tara’s wedding, Kristin and I went to the hospital for our 20 week sonogram and discovered that we’re having a son.

We’ve been wanting a child for a few years now, so we’ve spent a lot of time discussing possible names; we thought that we were decided upon both a boy and a girl name (and even a name for a second boy). Very early on in these discussions, we dismissed the name Clinton Kennedy Sample IV as being too egregious and unwieldy a thing to bestow on a little baby boy. My father well over a year ago had said that he didn’t care if we continued the name or not, so we thought it was a done deal.

Then about a month ago, Kristin, very seriously said, “You know, if it ends up being a boy, and you don’t want to break the chain of your name, I’m okay with naming him Clinton Kennedy Sample IV.” Then she started repeating that more and more. Thursday after we found out that we are indeed having a son, it became the hot topic of discussion. On the phone, my mother said she’d like Clinton Kennedy Sample IV and she even followed up with an email about it. People who I’ve talked to over the past several months have yelled at me: “No! You can’t break the chain!” when they’ve heard that we were planning on not using the name. Ryan Block said exactly that at TechCrunch 50 when we were discussing my future, at that point of an unknown gender, child. Kristin maintains that the decision is mine, but that she will call the child C.K. or little C.K. if we go with the name.

And now, with a decision that I’d thought was already decided, I’m torn. Not only am I torn about whether to give the child my name (and my father’s and my father’s father’s), but I’m even second guessing the other name that we had decided upon before. I’m second guessing all the names we came up with before for all our—at the time we came up with them—fictional, imaginary children. Seeing the little guy’s jazz hand and his profile (pictured with this post) in Thursday’s sonogram and being able to identify him as a him has brought the fact that we are having a child to a whole new level of realness. All the names that we’d come up with when we were dreaming of future fictional children seem heavily unreal when put up against that realness. The real and weighty reality of the tradition of my name, however, feels very real.

I have a theory about names, naming, and generally how we read ourselves into the stories of everything around us (this was to be a focal point of that dissertation in critical theory that I never bothered writing). I think given the rise of individualism in post-industrial, post-the-arrival-of-the-camera’s-gaze contemporary culture, we identify ourselves externally much more than our tribal ancestors did (they of course identified themselves more according to their role in the tribe). I’ve always been known as C.K. That, as far as I am concerned, is my name. However, that does not match my full legal name and I’ve always had to defend its use and underscore, “No. I actually go by C.K. Please, don’t call me Clinton. That name is not me.”

I also remember as a child being aware that my name was these two letters ck that often appear together in words, and I thought that important somehow. It’s part of why I got into writing and reading and literature. Did you know that luck ends with C.K. and that’s why I’m lucky? ;-)

This may sound ridiculous until you start studying the rise of literary criticism in the late 19th and early 20th Century. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that nearly every critic in this genre of talking about texts reads him/herself into the text he/she is studying and uses some personal connection to enter the text and begin the criticism. Harold Bloom calls all the characters in Ulysses by their family nicknames in his writing about Joyce’s novel, I think, because he shares the name Bloom with them and sees them as part of his family. He inserts himself into the text as one of their family members in the same way that Leopold Bloom, walking the streets of Dublin, is handed a religious tract that reads “Blood of the Lamb” and he pauses while reading and narrates to us: “Bloo– Me? No. Blood of the Lamb.” That’s just one example. I wrote (and presented at SCMLA conference in 2001) a paper on this which is linked to somewhere, but I cannot find the link now.

Anyway, a lot of my personal thinking about the world evolved from my pondering on my name, the letters of my name appearing in other words, how unique both my legal name is and how unique my initials are (C.K.s aren’t that common), alongside the disconnect with my last name being a generic word that no one ever recognizes as a name. “Samples?” “No. Sample. As in free sample. S A M P L E.”

I also was teased quite a bit in school (and since then, by childish adults) for my name. “What does C.K. stand for? Can’t Kiss? Cruddy Kid?”

Giving my son my name will create a shared experience of sorts for us, especially if my wife insists on calling him C.K. too. If I give him the same name, I think I’ll call him Four and tell him to call me Three, and that can be another shared thing between us. He can call his grandfather Two.

Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud here, because I’m really at a loss as to what I should do. Something like a name feels so important. The tradition of my name feels important. The other names we currently have don’t feel like they match up with that importance. At the same time, I have very much hated the disconnect between what I consider to be my real name, C.K., and everyone’s insistence on those only being initials and always, continually being asked, “What does that stand for?” It stands for me.

UPDATE: My dad just called and added his vote for C.K. IV after reading this post. He also emailed me the following bit on the history of our name, which I’m including here after the jump so I don’t lose track of it:

I just read your blog notes and now can weigh in on what I think. I think it
would be awesome to have a 4th. Just think if Lil’ CK has a son he can go
by Fifth. Just kidding. Anyhow, my Dad’s Mom who was a Kennedy decided
on Clinton for my Dad your Grandaddy Sam. She chose Clinton long before
a democratic President but from a novel she read. The hero in the book was
Clinton so she and my Grandaddy Sample(who by the way was 6’4″ and 280 lbs
of steel decided on Clinton Kennedy. Therefore my Dad was the only one in his family to go and graduate
from OleMiss with a Pharmacist Degree and a member of RhoChi(top 5% in
Pharmacy Class) and second overall in his class. He was a Christian and
provided sufficiently for all of us and retired from Upjohn after a
very successful 39 year career.

He and Uncle George were as excited as me and your Mom when you were born
and we decided to carry on the Clinton Kennedy tradition. Uncle George
was excited in that there was a good chance the Sample name would be carried
into another generation if you had a son.

Anyhow, you have been a success and hopefully you feel maybe I was
halfway successful as a CK Junior. My Sisters and your Cousins say it
is a no brainer to name your son Clinton Kennedy Sample IV. They
were going to gang up on you in Nashville. I now vote for Clinton
Kennedy Sample !V. He can go by Clint, Clinton, Kenny, Ken, Kennedy(that’s
what everyone called my Dad) until his Navy days and sailors called him Sam Sample and it stuck. While I was in the Navy the Marines and Sailors called me Sam Sample as they discarded Ken. At Xerox all of the Northeners called me Kenny and everyone else called me Ken. We decided to call you CK in case you wanted to change later you could switch to some of the options previously noted.

2nd Update: Mom weighed in with an email as well:

To weigh in on the subject…. After we had decided to name you the
third (which by the way was an easy decision), everyone weighed in
on what to call you. Nannie especially wanted you to be called Clint.
In no way shape or form could I see you as Clint. It seemed too
harsh a name for a baby or even small child. She had some serious
reservations about you being C.K.. I thought it was very very ‘cool’
and also reasoned that you could choose what to be called when you
were older. Thankfully your dad agreed with me. I have never
regretted calling you C.K. and you still have the option of choosing
a different version of your name. Love, Mom

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Christopher Finke 9/30/2009, 9:32 am

    With you being three and your father being two, it sounds like you’re starting your own chapter of the Stonecutters.

  • marty 9/30/2009, 10:00 am

    My brother was a III. He didn’t continue the name. In fact, he hasn’t used either of the names. And it has always annoyed me that all three, my grandfather, my dad, and my brother, went by Thomas or some form thereof. None of them used the middle name or initials or anything.

    Our next son will have their middle name.

    I also know a family who carried the male name to V, and they call him Quinten. I often wonder if he will feel obligated to take it to VI, or if he will feel less attachment to the name because they are calling him “five.”

    I have no advice obviously, just some other scenarios.

  • Virginia Coleman-Prisco 9/30/2009, 9:51 pm

    My grandfather, father, & brother were all George. However their middle names were Edward, Francis, & Andrew, so they were not I, II, & III.

    I feel sad that my brother was unable to carry on the tradition when he passed away.
    We recently named our son after my husband’s father and my brother (his middle name – our family called him by that). Nods at older generations are so much better than naming your kid Tucker or Buffy.

    However, this is a decision for you and Kristen. Good luck with it!