Most_Popular_Male_NamesWhat’s in a name? And what makes someone change their name?

My son started high school a few weeks ago. After nine years at the same, small, independent school where he’d been since kindergarten, Jordy now attends a large, diverse, urban public school. And with this major change in his educational routine, I’ve noted that my son now calls himself by his given name, Jordan.

Actually, I noted that he tried this on initially during our summer trip to the Middle East, where we actually visited the country of Jordan, and several times we saw and crossed the Jordan River.

This name change seems fitting and appropriate for my teenage son, who also went from wearing his hair very long for many years, to cutting it just in time to explore high schools. In both cases, with both choices – his hair and his name – he wears it well and naturally, and is clearly comfortable with who he is and how he shows up.

Name change was also a theme when I eulogized my father last February for his old friends and associates back in Ohio. On the advice of a friend of mine who’d lost his father a few years before me, I sought to tell those gathered in memory of my dad’s passing a bit about his early life that they would not otherwise have known. Here’s what I said in that eulogy:

To begin, I’ll tell you something about my dad that nobody here would know, and that I only learned in the last half-dozen years – it has to do with his name, Marc – with a C. This was shared with me by my paternal grandmother, Nana Pearl Gertner, may she rest in peace. Her maiden name was Marcus, and that was the first name she gave to my dad. To hear my dad tell it, he never liked, and legally shortened his name to Marc, retaining the ‘c’ spelling which is not too uncommon.

As a child, I remember inquiring: “Dad, why don’t you have a middle name?” and he’d always give the quick comeback “My parents were too poor to buy me one!” While that may not have made sense as I grew up, imagine my surprise when my grandmother told me that my father’s name at birth was actually MARCUS TULLIUS GERTNER – apparently she and Papa Louis (of blessed memory) liked the regal, Roman sound, after Cicero the great lawyer and orator. Nana told me that little Marcus never liked that his initials made him ‘MT’ Gertner – for nothing about him was EMPTY, certainly not the good head on his shoulders – and my dad became just Marc ‘NMI’* Gertner as soon as he could. And that’s how we all knew him. *(No Middle Initial)

My father’s name change also seemed to suit him to his last days. Even with dementia he loved to greet new people saying “Gertner’s the name, law’s the game.”

As a child, I asked my father about his choice of names for me: Douglas Matthew. Apparently my middle name was after an attorney he knew and respected. Dad often said he thought I might go into the law, and that the name D. Matthew Gertner, Esq. would be a distinguished moniker for the barrister he hoped I’d be.

Well, as you may have guessed, I did not study law, and I do not go by D. Matthew. Call me Doug.

While I have not seen fit to change my name – and in fact I generally do not do well with changes of any kind – I have adopted a moniker of my own choosing. I am The Grateful Dad, ever mindful of all that I have to be thankful for, including the lessons learned from my late father, and those I am teaching to, and also learning from my teenage son. Whatever names they go by, each is beloved to me, and for and to each I am truly and continually grateful.

…and that’s the full-circle fatherhood report.

BONUS TUNE: Children And All That Jazz by Joan Baez

This entry was posted in Being a Dad, Being a Son, Gratitude, Men's Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to NAMES/CHANGES

  1. Josh says:

    Thanks for sharing this big decision that both your son and father made regarding their names. I also went through this process when I chose to change my last name when I was eleven years old. I changed it from my biological dad’s last name to my step-dad’s. The whole process began in elementary school when I would write my step-dad’s last name as my own but legally, I still had my other last name.

    As a new dad (for the second time), my wife and I put a lot of thought into our children’s names. We wanted to give them a name which they could grow with and which also has a story to it.

    It is amazing how our names define us and also how we make choices to change the way we are defined by others. Thank you for sharing your families journey in identifying themselves.

    • Doug Gertner says:

      Wow, Josh, thanks for reaching out with this comment, and for sharing your own, powerful and authentic story. Also, mazel tov on your newest family member, you are truly a fellow grateful dad.

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