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.

joseph tay­lor

One Comment

  • Elisabeth Waugaman wrote:

    Joseph” is found in both the Old and New Tes­ta­ments. In the Old Tes­ta­ment, he is the “wun­derkid,” who rises to great power and wealth despite being sold into slav­ery by his broth­ers, for whom he shows mercy and com­pas­sion. In the New Tes­ta­ment, Joseph shows com­pas­sion for Mary, whom he mar­ries despite her preg­nancy with a child not his own. The name appears again with Joseph of Ari­mathea, who helps take Christ’s body off the cross, pre­pare it for bur­ial in his per­sonal tomb, and then, accord­ing to leg­end, he takes the Holy Grail to Eng­land. The name is thus linked with Arthurian mythol­ogy. “Joseph” has remained a pop­u­lar name ever since the US cen­sus started in the 1880’s. Josephine is the female coun­ter­part. “Joe” is used for males and “Jo” for females, although I am told “Jo” is androg­y­nous in Britain. Because of its bib­li­cal asso­ci­a­tions, the name has asso­ci­a­tions with power, suc­cess, for­give­ness, mercy, and com­pas­sion, attrib­utes that are not always asso­ci­ated with one another, and a ten­der­ness rarely asso­ci­ated with male names.

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