Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's In A Name

Why do poets use their middle names? I thought about this from time to time. Maybe its for the name recognition, to sound more important or distinguished or to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other names that sound similar. Then there are some writers that use initials for their first name, middle name, or both, like Frank X. Walker or R.T. Smith. As a fledgling writer, I once thought of penning my name as D. Wayne Hampton, but it reminded me too much of my Freshman dorm-floor nickname, so I chucked that idea. I don't know about other folks without asking them, but I do have a reason why I use my full name.

My father's name is David Wilson Hampton. He wanted so much to make me a Junior, but my mom would not hear of it. As a compromise, he named me David Wayne Hampton. However, as I grew up I became more aware that only my middle initial was requested when filling out forms, so people always asked, "Oh, so are you a Junior?" to which I would vehemently reply, "No. I am not!" It got on my nerves pretty quickly.

When I was 13 my family physician picked up my father's folder by mistake instead of mine. I was there for a routine physical, and when the doctor walked in with a chart in his hand, he said, "Whoops. I think I got the wrong one. You didn't recently have a vasectomy, did you?" Not something a pubescent boy really wants to know about his father. The images conjured up in my mind that day are still etched in the back of my skull.

As a teenager I was very self-conscious about being my own person and not wanting that association with my father. When I opened a checking account, I insisted using my full name as my official signature on my checks. When I got my driver's license, I signed my name in full. As I've gotten older, though, I regretted making such a fuss about it, especially in front of my father whose pride was probably hurt a little each time I wanted to distinguish my name from his. I'm still glad I'm not a junior, but I'm proud now that I share my first name and middle initial with my father. An added bonus -- in college he would sometimes let me cash a check originally written out to him, and my AAA account states I've been a loyal member with them since the sixth grade.

As a writer, I admit I wanted my name to be less common. David is such a common name, and everywhere I've lived since college there has been another David Hampton in the phone book. When I began working at the Appalachian Journal at ASU, where I attended college, I noticed how many other writers I met or came across in my work had the same middle name as me: Jim Wayne Miller, Richard Wayne Hague, and longtime editor of the AppalJ Jerry Wayne Williamson. As a joke to pass the long office hours of proofreading and transcribing, Jerry and I came to the conclusion that it was the perfect middle name. We even tossed around the idea of giving everyone on the editorial board the middle name of Wayne in an upcoming issue just to see if anyone would notice. We never did, but it became the running joke for a while.

I hope when people see my name in a journal or literary publication, they won't think I'm being pompous or self-important because I use my full name. It does take up more space on a line, but in one way I'm just carrying on a tradition of literary nomenclature, right?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Froggy went a Boarding, and He Did Ride

After picking up my 3-year-old son at daycare the other day , instead of going into his usual babble about what he did or who wouldn't share their toy with him, he started blurting out, "Froggy! Froggy, Daddy!" At first I thought he was just talking about a toy he had dropped the day before in the back floorboard. I had already pulled out onto the road by that point.

"Daddy will get it when we get home," was my rehearsed reply.

"No, Daddy. Look!" I looked in the rear-view mirror, and he was pointing at my driver's side window. A tree frog must have dropped from an overhanging limb while I was parked. He was wide-eyed and clutching frantically to the glass with his little webbed feet, looking back at me at eye level. A little startled at first, at a stop sign I quickly pulled an empty drink bottle out of the floorboard and cut the top off it with my pocket knife, hoping do a little wildlife rescue. A car pulled up behind me, however, so I drove off before I could get out and catch it. It began to crawl down the glass like it was about to jump from my car.

"No!" I cried.

"What wrong, Daddy?" my son said, very concerned. I was not going to let this thing take a plunge to its death on my watch, so I started to roll down the window in hopes of catching it before it committed froggy suicide. Here I am, driving down the road with my hand out the window trying to scoop up a hitchhiking amphibian.

That's when it hopped into my car. Thankfully it didn't go for my face, because I probably would have swatted out of reflex and killed it. Instead, it landed on my dash. I could see it now, the thing was going to climb down my defrost vent and get stuck, shriveling up and leaving a stench of baking frog meat in the afternoon sun. Instead it proceeded to climb down the crack between my car door and the dash. My son was going nuts now, "Get it Daddy, get it!"

I pulled into a church parking lot and opened my car door. It had safely clung to my door, like it would crawl under a layer of tree bark. I caught it in the plastic bottle, and allowed my son to take a minute to look at it. It was breathing feverishly, like it thought we were going to eat it. There weren't any trees around nearby, so I placed it under a bush next to a tombstone in the cemetery. I'm sure someone at the church saw me and wondered what I was doing at the grave site.

No flowers, just leaving a frog.