I’ve been thinking seriously lately about changing my name.
It won’t be the first time.
“Mama, please.” I begged her to let me change my name. I couldn’t stand it. Francis was a confusing name. People kept wondering if I was a girl or a boy, or pretending that they were confused and thus confused me. Relatives kept mixing me up with Uncle Loney’s son Francis. “Don’t Loney have a boy named Francis?” they’d say when introduced (so to say) to me. And worst of all, there was a movie star by that name. Francis the Talking Mule he was called. He was funny enough. I’d even laughed uncontrollably when taken to the movies to see Francis. But I didn’t laugh when, having gotten swatted down by the teacher for talking too much, the playground mantra was “Francis, Francis, Francis the talking mule.” Set, of course, to that ancient and transcultural tune, na-na-na-na-na.
I knew that on the first day of second grade, I’d hear it all again. “Don’t you want us just to nickname you?” Mama asked. No way. The teacher would have my real name in front of her when she called the roll. And it would all start again.
We experimented with some names. Franklin, France, Frankie. Finally I decided that I wanted to be named and called the same thing: Frank.
And so it was. Mama wrote the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Columbia, did the paperwork, paid fifty cents, and that was that.
Relatives caught on relatively quickly. Schoolmates soon forgot I was ever called anything else. In a seminary course, I studied the significance of name giving and, recalling the story of my own name, came to some rather important insights about my own personality and history. Somewhere I discovered the connection between “Frank” and “free.” I like that. I am also mindful of the consistency of being Frank and being frank. I like that too.
But somewhere down deep, there is a little boy calling to Frank. He is stronger now at 70 than he was at 7. He has little trouble enduring the taunts and sniping of—well, of whom? He has gotten over the playground battles and really has outlasted some of his severest enemies. His picture, dressed in drag at age 4, for which costume he won the blue ribbon in the Kiddie Parade in Conway, South Carolina, along with ten bright shiny new pennies, hangs in Frank’s study above his desk.
He remembers Mr. Ragan, the minister who baptized him about that same time, touching the water in the old Methodist bowl and calling him, “Francis Gasque…,” mispronouncing the middle name as “Gas-kee.” He has liked it over the years when friends have nicknamed Frank “Francis.” He keeps poking Frank, testing to see whether Frank might do him some honor by inviting him to come out and be heard.
It was Grandmother Dunn who named me Francis. Not until several years ago, flipping through a family genealogy of the Olivers, did I learn that her oldest brother, dead before I was born, known as “Uncle Frankie,” was actually named Francis. She always loved me, perhaps about as unconditionally as anyone ever did. Never once did she question my changing what she had given me. I think from time to time what it would be like to reclaim her gift.
So I am listening to the voice of the little boy calling me in a voice just above a whisper. I don’t need to change certificates and licenses and passport and credit cards. It will be fine officially to be Frank for the duration. But I think I might call myself Francis.
The little Francis I love unconditionally. I think it is time I told him so.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016