What’s in a Name?

I was named after my dad, Charles David Stephens, and I absolutely hate my name.

Here’s a hint if you’re ever naming someone- Don’t end the first name with the same letter the last name starts with. Charles Stephens is painfully sibilant. It sounds like a lisping drunk. It’s like ‘S’s were on sale the day I was born. That, coupled with the fact that ‘Charles’ is far too formal for a kid lead me to go by ‘Chuck’.

Of course Chuck had it’s problems also. It sounded so guttural. It sounded like the first syllable a caveman would utter after his child was born. If your name is Chuck don’t even think about singing the name game (Chuck chuck bo buck, Banana fana fo.. Oh my). There were no cool, famous chucks. Sure there was Chuck Yeager and Chuck Jones, but what about Chuck Barris, Chuck Mangione, Chuck Wollery or Chuck Norris? They were just lame cliches. Sure, the 80’s gave me Chuck D, but it was too little, too late.

The worst was ‘Chuckie”. Argh! To this day I’ll get angry if someone calls me that. First of all it’s the kind of name that instantly screams ‘This is a kid!’. Davey Jones, Billy Graham, Willy Horton, Jimmy Carter, Johnny Cash, Benny Goodman or Tommy James never had that problem, but I challenge you to come up with an adult named Chuckie.

To make matters worse, in 1978, at the tender age of 7 (me not her), Ricky Lee Jones had a hit song called Chuck E’s in Love. Granted, this was Chuck E and not Chuckie, but they sound the same. Imagine it- you’re a 7 year old boy and everyone you know thinks it’s hilarious to sing this song to you and ask who it is that you’re in love with-

A little background is in order- Ms. Jones lived in a seedy SoCal motel with then boyfriend Tom Waits when this song was written. They had a friend named Chuck E. Weiss who also lived at the motel. One day Chuck E. disappeared. Eventually he called and told Tom that he was in Colorado because he had fallen in love with his cousin (what evs- it was the 70’s- at least he wasn’t Polansky). When Ms. Jones returned home Tom said “Chuck E.’s in Love!” She liked the cadence of the phrase. A hit song was born and my childhood was made a bit more unbearable.

A few years later The Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza and arcade franchise came to town. Suddenly, I was a giant costumed rat, with the tagline ‘At Chuck E. Cheese you can be real cheesey!’. Um, cool?

To make matters worse, in 1988 the movie Child’s Play was released. I never got 80’s horror movies. We were at risk of being vaporized by nuclear bombs at any minute- I didn’t have time to be afraid of abused kids in hockey masks or burn victims with finger blades. The horror movies that got me were The Day After and Testament. Child’s Play featured a possessed doll named Chucky. To make matters worse, the doll had that horrible Cabbage patch/ Garbage Pail Kids esthetic. It was pure cinematic trash, and it shared my name, one more reason to hate it.

The only person who could call me Chuckie and not set my hair on end was my grandmother. She was a classy southern woman who grew up poor, married an officer in the diplomatic corp and lived in London, Turkey and Greece. She gained a lot from her travels, but she never lost that velvety, warm southern accent. It’s funny that my loser uncle who never moved out of the house could call me Chuckie and it would grate on my nerves but she could say it in the same conversation and it would soothe me. I’d love to hear that again.

My grandmother has gotten on in years. Alzheimer’s has taken her memory. Hell, Alzheimer’s has taken her. She’s become child-like. Sometimes it’s sweet and innocent, like last Mother’s Day. We took her out for brunch and she ordered fried shrimp. She ate half the plate and we packed up the rest in a doggie bag. On the way to the car she said ‘Chuckie, what’s in that bag?’ I told her it was fried shrimp and her eyes got big. ‘Are they for me?’ she asked, hopefully. I said “Of course they are, Happy Mother’s Day!’ and she was tickled pink all over again.

Sometimes, though, it’s not so sweet. This once polite, loving woman needed several male orderlies to subdue her when she was taken to the hospital after a fall last year. They could hear her stream of obscenities all the way out in the waiting room. All the hostility she hid behind a veneer of southern hospitality was dragged to the surface by the disease.

The last time I saw her, half way through the visit, she leaned in and whispered “Who are you?’ kind of sheepishly, like she should know and was embarrassed.

I gritted my teeth against tears, smiled and said “It’s me grandma, it’s Chuckie”.

She smiled and went on with her story, the same one she’d already told several times that afternoon. When it was time to go I could tell that she’d already forgotten who I was.

As much as I hate that name, I.d give anything to hear it one more time.



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