Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 31, 1959
December 31, 2009 | 2:00 pm
So We Call Them as We See Them, Sort Of
(News item) CHICAGO, Dec. 30 -- Wilbur Geoffrey Gaffney, associate professor of English from the University of Nebraska, today revealed the results of a 10-year study on the significance of names.
His conclusions: You are what your name has made you. Your career is determined by your character and your character is determined, perhaps unalterably, by the name under which you grew to adulthood . . .
Now some of you think the professor is a bit of a kook to make that claim. I don’t. For a long time I’ve had the feeling that a person’s given name is a clear indication of his personality and his occupational possibilities.
It gives me pause to wonder at the parental sadism that would cause a mother to name her son, let us say, Horace. Or, for that matter, Wilbur Geoffrey.
In fact, it almost happened to me.
I’ve never publicly revealed this before, but I came perilously close to being named Percival -- in reverent memory, I suppose, of some slightly far ancestor.
At the last moment, fortunately, my mother balked and named me Paul. I grew up believing that this had an obvious connection with the fact that my grandfather’s name was William John Paul, which gave me a nice warm feeling of identity.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned otherwise. I was sitting one night in the parlor with my mother, who had a severe head cold and was nursing it with an old family remedy of ours, Rock & Rye.
After medicating herself two or three times, she looked at me with tenderness and said, somewhat wistfully: “Did I ebba tell you about how you happ’id to be dabed Paul?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s because grandpa’s name was William John--“
She interrupted me by shaking her head and smiling mysteriously.
“Nobe,” she said. “Id was years before I med your father.”
“Mother,” I suggested gently, “here’s my hanky.”
She took it, used it and continued: “I used to go with a very lovely boy. He played violin in a German restaurant on Coney Island. His name was Paul.”
Mother cupped my chin in her hands. “I always said,” she said, “if I ever had a son, I’d name him Paul. It’s such a strong name.”
My father might have found that an entertaining piece of information, but for me it had a rather peculiar effect. I built up a fixation that all Pauls in the world were, or if they weren’t, should be, second violinists in Coney Island hofbraus.
The fixation doesn’t involve just me. I categorize everybody by his first name. For example, while I don’t recall, I must have once known an A&P clerk named Charlie because I cannot today meet anyone named Charlie without a kind of unconscious feeling that no matter what he does for a living, he really belongs in a white apron, standing next to a vegetable bin.
To me, everybody named Carl has a small radio repair shop and trouble making the rent. All Hanks are minor league first-basemen with mottled, yellowed teeth from chewing snuff.
All Als are bookmakers, with the exception of one who’s a rug maker.
A Slight Handling Charge
Most Phils are appliance dealers who confide in their manicurists that their wives don’t understand them, and who don’t realize that their manicurists are married to their barbers, who all are named Tony.
And all Quincys are -- I don’t know. I just don’t know.
If I’ve missed any of you, just send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope and I’ll forward by return mail, your occupational analysis. Please enclose 10 cents to cover the cost of handling, because, after all, I can’t make much of a living playing the violin in Coney Island these days. Off-season, you know.