Names as a Striving for Refinement:
My father’s beginnings were humble. His parents were the rural poor of East Texas, born in the late 19th century. His mother was the 13th of 13 children. His father was the 7th son and the grandson of a Cherokee tribeswoman, which in those days must have been an isolating circumstance. Joe was the name recorded on my father’s birth certificate, since that had been his father’s official birth name. The initial “C.” in his name was just that, an initial only. Joe, Sr. had not been born with a middle name. In his youth, he planned to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. [For the record, he was not elected.] At the county office, he filled the registration form for a place on the ballot. A clerk reviewed his application and noticed that he had left blank the box reserved for his middle initial. He asked my grandfather in a tone that demanded an answer: What is your middle initial? He gave it a moment’s thought and decided on “C”. So the “C” stuck and ended on his son and my birth certificate.
When I was growing up, there were the endless official forms to complete at school. I developed a strategy to pre-empt the occasional question. If the form asked for the middle initial, I was in the clear. But if it asked for a middle name, I would enter “C (i.o.)” to indicate that the C was an “initial only”. Most of the time I had to explain what that meant, but the person reviewing the form would usually give me a sympathetic nod and move on. When I was eleven or twelve, I had a close friend whose name was Charles. Around the same time, I entered junior high school and there was another battery of forms. I decided to re-christen myself with the middle name, Charles, and leave the trail of embarrassing explanations forever in the past. That evening I proudly revealed my decision to my parents. They were duly horrified. That is not your name. You don’t understand. You can’t just change your name like that. I was very disappointed. But on further thought, I became rather proud of the only oddity in my rather commonplace name.
Oh yes, the Tarrant County (Texas) document certificate recording my birth lists one “Joseph C. Taylor, III” reflecting my parent’s attempt to set the record straight at last. In fact, I was technically not the 3rd, as I later pointed out to them. My father and grandfather were both “Joe”. But they meant Joseph, they protested in return. The dynastic addition of the “III” seemed very grand to an adolescent, but as I grew older, it seemed pretentious as well as inaccurate. Once I’d entered the working world, I simplified matters. My business cards show no middle initial and no indication of a dynasty in the making.