Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

You’ll Never Guess My Middle Name.

I made a friend in college who had the second most interesting middle name I’ve ever heard. His middle name was Dorman. For the life of me, I wish I could remember his brother Paul’s middle name because it was the single most interesting middle name I’d ever heard. His middle name was something like “Erstwhile,” though, that wasn’t it. For years, these brothers would use that famous line, “you’ll never guess my middle name.”

My friend Cassie just used that line the other night. And boy, was she right. Her middle name used to be someone else’s last name, and she probably knew that those where the toughest kind to figure out. She gave me the first letter and I scrambled to offer all of the most outrageous and exotic names that began with that letter. And when she finally told me, I realized I’d never have guessed it in a million years.

But I can’t tell you her name middle here on this blog. You and I both know that publishing that kind of insider information is a strict violation of middle-name code. You just don’t do that. Middle names are secrets.

But a middle name is a regenerative secret, because not only do few people know our middle name, but sometimes people who once knew forget again. A Middle Name is a personal mystery that we release at our discretion that can even stand at the threshhold of our relationships. How many of your close friends don’t know your middle name? Or, how many of your acquaintances do? And while intimacy with one another uncovers many secrets about us, the Middle Name is the good kind, of the precious order that we reserve and savor; the kind we don’t mind people knowing, just so long as we get to tell them.

I think maybe this is because our First Name carries a paradox: it is first the title that most clearly and deeply identifies me. The sum total of my actions, values, successes and failures, loves and losses, can be encapsulated in a single word. And yet, for something so precious and private, it out of necessity must be used so profusely that it falls into the mundane.

I once heard a joke that a mother searching for what to name her child ought to pick a name, and then shout it 100 times from the back porch; if it still does not sound tired to her, then she has found it. But honestly, what name could not sound tired after millions of uses? Our First Name is meant to bear the brunt of the effacing forces of use– whether bourne on the soft whisper of a beloved, or the acrimonious tirade of a nemesis. It needs to be made of some tough stuff

Is that why we so carefully protect our Middle Names? After all, for all of the wear and tear, we know that our First Name is not our Full Name. Within a Middle Name is preserved the regal dignity that a name should preserve, something that ought not to fall into common use. And so with hyphens or coy games we guard our Middle Names.

And when I learn someone’s middle name, I always feel like I know something deeper about them, but by intuition– something I definitely cannot put into words. Maybe its the fact that when someone discloses their Middle Name they are almost always beaming. They’re proud, and they’re happy to share something something of themselves that they have only privately considered and come to terms with in order to present themselves.  It is a secret that they’ve obviously been hiding, but not in a bad way.

Mine is a particularly clever ruse. I actually go by my Middle Name. When I say, “you’ll never guess my middle name,” it comes with the Rumplestiltskin-irony that you’ve been using it for years and that what you really don’t know is my first name. People usually say something like, “You mean Bret isn’t your REAL name?” And that always makes me smile. Of course Bret is my real name; but it is not my full name, not the full story. My full name carries a regal dignity that is preserved even after my common title is fatigued by saying it thousands of time. My first name is a secret that I don’t mind telling, so long as there aren’t too many people around. And if you knew my full name, you would understand a bit more about me, even if you only understood it intuitively.

But I go by Bret.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment