There’s a lot in a name. For some, it’s a measure of their identity, and for others a memento of the past.
Take mine, for example. A whole raft of people only knew me by the name Wes. Years later, on Facebook, they discovered that Lou was my real name. Of course, they don’t know how I came by the alias.
At one point, I was a member of a group of Folkies on Boston’s Beacon Hill. I was also a junior member, having only shown up in Boston a month before. Everyone else had impressive-sounding nicknames or alias. There was the Tea head of the August Moon, Captain Zero, Dutchie, English Joe, and Mike the Vike. I was the only one not replete with a handle, alias, or nickname. So far, I had avoided committing any blunder that landed me with an embarrassing name, nor performed some feat that gave a great descriptor like Captain Zero. It was a puzzle that my tribal seniors decided to address that very night.
While they were debating my naming, I wandered over to visit my friend Judy. Judy’s roommate Elaine was an airline stewardess, and the two usually showed up with five or six friends who worked with Elaine. Judy was like an older sister. I had to be on my best behavior around her and with any of her guests. That night I struck up a long and involved conversation with one of Elaine’s friends about how the folk music industry was changing.
You had to talk loudly to be heard above the crowd at the Gardens that night. But it became clear that although I had introduced myself to Sarah as Lou, she had not heard me. Eventually, her not knowing my name morphed into my being called Les. As we continued to drink, Sarah altered this to Wes. I was frankly too enchanted to correct her.
Judy and Elaine gathered their brood at about eleven and left for home. Sarah grabbed me for a hug and a kiss and proclaimed loudly, ” Wes! You’re so sweet.” Sweet wasn’t what I was aiming for, but I saw them at their apartment on West Cedar Street before wandering back to the Gardens.
I saw them snickering as I walked towards our table ( now buried under empties and remains of bar snacks). I knew my fate was determined. As I sat down, the Tea Head smiled and said to Captain Zero,” The envelope, please.” he was handed a soiled cocktail napkin. ” the choices are Sweetie and Wes.” He handed me a beer and exclaimed, “Lucky for you, we determined that Sweetie would demean the tribe. So we now baptize you, Wes. They then poured their remaining beer over my head. We were then asked to leave the bar and not return until something more outrageous dimmed the memory of my baptism. A week I think.
The following day everyone in the household started calling me Wes. Eventually, I began to think of myself as Wes. When I enlisted in the Navy, Wes went onto my record as my alias and the name has followed me ever since.
Names have consequences; they are not mere accessories in life. My nickname links me to a time when I traveled widely, sang and played in coffeehouses, and had outrageous adventures.