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What’s in a name?

By Billy | December 18, 2013

My relationship with my name has been “it’s complicated” since I was… maybe 11? That’s the earliest I can remember, at least. At the beginning of 6th grade, Mrs. Mead called roll and asked if we had any nicknames.
For whatever reason, my heart started racing. We do this every year, but this time felt different for me. I guess since I was finally in middle school, I needed to start thinking about how I wanted to be as an adult. Mrs. Mead, in her shrill and perpetually annoyed voice, called out “William Grasmeder,” and I told her, “I want to be William this year.” I couldn’t imagine being Billy when I was an adult. (Bill Clinton was the nearest thing to an “Example of adult Billys;” as a conservative Catholic, appeared to be neither an adult, a Billy, nor a good example.)

My friends scoffed the attempted transformation. Mrs. Mead followed suit. “No, I’m going to call you Billy.” Confused, I explained under my breath that I didn’t always want to be a Billy.

In 8th grade, my so-called girlfriend and her friends called me variations on my middle name, Alexander: Lex, Alex, and Alexander. My brother’s girlfriend at the time was calling me “Bill,” a name I didn’t like to begin with, but especially not coming from a person I so detested existing in my life. A year later, my to-be long-term high school partner, was also calling me “Bill” (which I now thoroughly detest coming from most people). As a result of the Bill/Billy juxtaposition, my high-school Ice Hockey jacket just has the letter “B” written on it. That nickname still follows me. Someone called me “B” just yesterday.

Introducing myself as any of these names has always just felt.. funny. Wrong. To be honest, it feels like there’s a dense liquid wall in front of me (white in color). The wall gives resistance, but is easily penetrated once you commit to it. There’s this liminal moment(?), between the two sides, during which I have no thoughts. Once on the other side, I’m ready to say “Billy,” or whatever other name I have braced myself for.

I became aware of this bizarrely physical feeling between 2003 and 2007 when I’d lie about my preferences, either to my high school sweetheart, or because of my high school sweetheart. Whenever I knew what I was about to say was entirely fabricated and disjoint from the things I wanted, but I was choosing to say them anyway. When it happened with her, though, I usually knew what alternative I preferred.

About which name I preferred, I had no ideas.

In 2008, amid 20 strangers who would come to be some of the most important friends I’d find in college, I lost my name. We were camping and I was someone’s tag-along. I knew nobody. When they started asking me my name, and I just told them “I don’t know.” I was trying to be honest… and I was hopeful that people would guess at my name and eventually the right one would emerge. Thus I became “the one without a name” in quite a few people’s phone books. When people call me “Rufus,” I immediately know which friends we have in common. People called me Rumplestilkstin, Sky, Meredith, Beau, Sid, Skunk-Phoenix, and so on. This lasted for months; at least an entire school year. Longer.

Eventually, I became half happy with the idea of going by “William-Alexander.” The whole thing. It felt wrong, but it felt a little less wrong than introducing myself to a group of 5 people with 5 different names, and people assumed I had some other agenda when I kept silent about it. People had begun to figure out my birth name, anyway, and were calling me William. Which never was definitely not right. Now people out there call me Wally, WAlexander, Walex, W.A., etc.

Some people chose to shorten William Alexander Grasmeder to just Wag. It felt alarmingly okay. Those few people were the first ones, maybe excepting family members, who actually called me names I felt like I liked. Like the name fit me.


In early 2013, I was: Billy to family and their friends, Billy at work (because my boss knows my family), William at school, William-Alexander to college friends, Wag to many, and things like Skunk Phoenix and Rufus stuck for a few, too. Hearing people say “Wag” felt best, but introducing myself like that felt frustratingly false.

One day in 2013, I tried introducing myself as one of the names I had been given, Meriwether. I was on a bus with only strangers. They’d never know what my parents call me, they’d never know anything but what I told them. I felt calm after having told them this name. There were no big fireworks, there was no wall to push through. And they bought it! The first time I heard it used for me, there were fireworks. There was such validation in that moment. The thrill!

So there it is. I’d been sitting on Meriwether for a few months, slowly telling people little by little. Last month I made a facebook accout for this new iteration of myself. 1. Facebook wont let me change my name any more, I’ve reached that limit. And 2. I think I’m set on this new name and all its nicknames. The middle name I’ve been going with is Rose. That leaves you Merry (a la Meriadoc), Mary, Rosemary, Meriwether, Mer/Mar, and so on.

The reason for writing all this is to feel like I’m no longer in the shadows about it. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings for not telling them about my name preference, nor do I want them to feel like they’re not invited into new steps in my life. You are invited! I’m just easing myself into the water and being self-conscious. But there you have it. Thanks for reading.

tl;dr I never really knew a name I liked before now. I’ve found I have a strict preference for “Meriwether.”

Topics: This is my life | Comments Off on What’s in a name?

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