The only subject on which I can make a reasonable claim at being an expert is what it means to have the name Dick. Its ups and downs, its ins and outs, its passing incidents, its lifelong implications, its gestalt. If you’re named Dick, it’s never boring in social circumstances for it keeps you on your toes. Every time that you meet anyone, man or woman, straight or gay (or whatever other variation on that theme you may cross), regardless of nationality (English slang is seemingly universal these days), if they’re black or white or yellow or brown or green or mauve, you have to think how are they going to react when you introduce yourself? When you introduce yourself as Dick, the conversation often goes like this:
“You mean short for Richard, right?”
“No my name is Dick.”
“Do you mean like… dick? You mean… like… like… do you know that it means?”
“Yes… No I don’t mean that, I don’t mean anything… it’s just my name.”
“Oh… okay. Huh… That’s your name? Really?”
If the conversation stays on my name, which occasionally happens, there are a number of possible variations in the discourse, a few are covered below. Sometimes I feel like a one-man minority group.
Was it my destiny to be called Dick? I think so. My father was also named Dick, but Dick in his days (he was born in 1935) didn’t have the same connotations, it was just a normal name. My full name is Henry Dickinson Turner, as was my father’s. And Dickinson became Dick, a lifelong nickname.
What’s a name? Isn’t it just a sound? Tom is just a sound. Harry is just two sounds (Har-ry). Names are identifiers. Of course I know Lily means a Lily and Pierre means a rock but I never think of either of those objects when people say those names to me, I just think Lily and Pierre. What about John? It never makes me think of an apostle or a restroom. When I was a kid we had some books on the shelf at home called “The Rover Boys” which were about military prep school cadets. These books had belonged to my maternal grandfather. I liked them, they were a mix of adventure and, completely out-of-date. These books were meant to serve as ideal models for the youth of America circa 1910. The hero’s names were Tom, Dick and Sam Rover. As normal as Jack, Jim, Bill, Joe, Tim, Tyrone, Siegfried, Agamemnon or Gilgamesh. But times change.
Should I have changed my name? To what? Ted? Ken? Hands? Feet? Brain? Pancreas? Table? Car? Detergent? Air? These are all names. If I was going to change my name I think I’d prefer to employ the method that I’ve heard is used by certain American Indian tribes, that is, have it inspired by a peyote-induced dream quest. But I don’t think calling myself “Leaping Elk” or “Weeping Mountain” would make life any easier.
Some say, “Why not just use Henry? Isn’t that your real name anyway?” My homonymous brother is Henry as well and always has been Henry. Just as I’m Dick and have always been Dick. Besides, all the artwork and music I’ve made has been released under that name. And, I like my name.
It was Heraclitus who first said, “Character is destiny.” Would he have extended that concept to a person’s name? I can’t say with certainty. And in my case I believe it’s had deterministic properties. I confess that I’m irresistibly drawn to women named Fanny.
I’m Dick Turner and it’s very nice to meet you. What’s your name?