I Hate My Name

Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson)I hate my name. Both of them. But as with my genetic makeup, I’m stuck with them.

What is it about the name Howard? Once you get past classic film director Howard Hawks and newscaster Howard K. Smith (whom you really have to be a Boomer to remember), you’re left with Howard Hughes, who is mostly remembered for being a germophobic, eccentric recluse; Howard Cosell, whose picture appears next to “obnoxious” in the dictionary; and Howard Stern, who took radio to new depths. There is, as I have noted previously, another Howard Baldwin, who is noted on the one hand for producing some fine movies (Ray) but more duds, as well as for apparently bankrupting the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.

Fiction is worse. I have no idea how this started, but somewhere along the line, Howard became the chosen name for the socially challenged in film and television: Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) on The Andy Griffith Show (pictured). Howard Borden (Bill Daily) on The Bob Newhart Show. Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) in In and Out. And who can forget the immortal scene in Sixteen Candles when one of the grandmothers leans over her exchange student passed out on the grass and shrieks to her husband, “Howard! He’s dead!”

As if that weren’t enough, I have a friend who thinks of me every time she sees Sleepless in Seattle, because Tom Hanks’ surname was Baldwin and his son’s bear was named Howard.

So how did I get the name Howard? This has always puzzled me. I asked my mother this question once, and she told me I had been named after her great-uncle Chaim. Apparently in Jewish tradition, children are named in honor of relatives, but it’s bad luck to give them the exact name, so parents choose something that sounds similar (the C in Chaim is silent). In retrospect, this makes little sense to me because we didn’t practice Judaism. In fact, my maternal grandfather was a devout atheist. So how did my parents happen to follow that tradition when all the others were ignored?

I’m almost as unhappy with my surname. Baldwin in and of itself isn’t such a bad name. It’s from the Old English, meaning bold friend. When I tell people my name, I usually add, “Like the actors, except not as rich and not as handsome.” The only problem is, I used to have a receding hairline. Now it’s just receded. So it’s easy to remember Baldwin if you just visualize my head. It’s a great mnemonic.

As for Howard, if I’d been more confident and far-sighted in my younger days, I would have changed it … to something that started with a J, like Jack or Jeffrey or Jason. Those are the names of men, not dorks. I’ve known several women who have changed their given names because they hated them so much. I know sisters named Edna and Shirley who legally became Jennifer and Jessica. I have a classmate who started out as Mary Anne, switched to Melissa, and is now back to Mary Anne. I admire their kicking-butt-and-taking-new-names attitude.

Once a writer gets a byline, though, it’s hard to change your name and keep your old clippings. So now it’s too late. I’ve never had a cool nickname; I’ll probably never need a pseudonym for a novel; and as a law-abiding citizen, an alias is out. As The Name Lady wrote on NameCandy.com in response to a woman’s query, “A lifetime of living under one name builds a bond too strong to toss aside lightly.” I’m stuck with the bylines and the diplomas and the monograms, all emblazoned with the name I hate. Only reincarnation can rename me now.


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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12 Responses to I Hate My Name

  1. Robin Snyder says:

    I always liked Howardino-Rogo-Baldo. Made you sound like a magician. 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Cindy Costell says:

    Howard, back about 39 years ago or so when you baby sat for me, my elder son called you Howdin. Both names were too much for him to get his mouth around. He always said Howdin with such reverence and fondness.

  3. diannejacob says:

    Hello Bold Friend. I like it. I will think of you that way from now on.

  4. Fred Sandsmark says:

    I feel your name pain. I’ve had people say “No, really” when I’ve told them my name is Fred. It’s such an old man name. (I guess I’m catching up with it.) And my surname is frequently misheard and/or misspelled — my favorite butchering being Zanzibar, followed by Sandshark.

    • THERE’S a nickname: Shark! Seriously, at least you could have gone with “Rick” from “Frederick.” The only thing worse than Howard would be Howie. I guess I could have gone with Ward if I wanted to be associated with Beaver Cleaver’s father.

  5. Cindy Costell says:

    Howard, in my class at Stanford there was a King Lear. He still lives in Los Altos. It was
    said that he had a sister named Chanda, but I don’t see her in alumni records. Hmm, if Baldwin is Bold Friend, then Goodwin must be Good Friend. What else ends in — win ?

    • You’re just trying to make me feel better. I also heard of a guy whose surname was Fugit whose parents named him Tempus.

      Names ending in -win? Darwin. Kerwin. Gladwin. Sherwin. I’m sure there are others. What they mean … dunno.

  6. Dave Flack says:

    When I give my name I say “Dave Flack.” They say “Dave Black?” I say, “No Flack, as in ‘Roberta’.” Then there is the whole Flack vs. Flak issue.
    Don’t forget Penguin from Batman. Yeah, Batman, now there’s a name.

  7. Pingback: Of Late I Think Of Old Friends | Middle-Age Cranky

  8. Pingback: Hope For The Holidays | Middle-Age Cranky

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