“Meat to aisle 6. Meat to aisle 6 please.”
The store’s intercom system crackled over the din of the early afternoon shoppers. My basket groaned under the weight of the mistake of a premature stop in the dairy aisle for milk. As I walked from aisle to aisle shopping for my remaining items; mayonnaise, rubber gloves and discounted bananas, I walked past aisle 6. There stood a man with a broom, sweeping up what appeared to possibly be the contents of a bag of rice that looked like it had torn open. I know it was rice because I had recently been down aisle 6, fighting off the aggressive advances of one of those angry, gangland-style wasps that try to rule through intimidation. There may have been an altercation. I may have used a bag of rice as a shield, then a weapon.
As I walked past the man with the broom, both to re-visit the scene of the crime thus removing myself from looking guilty and to also see if I could determine if I spat out my gum in the struggle or simply swallowed it. I looked up at the man as I paused across the aisle from him and watched his slow rhythmic sweeping of 72,000 grains of rice. I cast my sneaky side-eyed gaze towards his nametag and was instantly caught off guard.
Hello, my name is Meat. How can I help you today?
In hindsight, it was probably like Matt, or Mike, or Mark, and they were probably calling the guy from the meat department to come to sweep up the damage left on the coliseum floor. My little tet-a-tet with the wasp may have left me disoriented and sweaty, resulting in poor vision and clammy hands. I walked away and left Meat, or Mark, to his business of cleaning up my insanity but I could not stop thinking about the names we are given and what they do to us in our lives. How did a guy probably not named Meat end up working in a grocery store and not in a financial or event planning capacity? Why was Meat sweeping the floors and I was fighting wasps?
My name was a complicated one to grow up with. Kirby is not a name commonly found in nature or 1970’s playgrounds. Until I was old enough to understand that my name was unique, I always kind of thought my name was pronounced with a high questioning inflection at the end of it, because people would always repeat it back to me like that. Kirby? I used to introduce myself with that same up-speak inflection when I was young, leading many to assume I had made up a name on the spot because I was on the run from the law.
My name was complicated further throughout my elementary school years when other kids would align my name with that of a car from 1969 Disney hit, Herby The Love Bug. I was Kirby The Love Bug. Used innocuously enough in middle school, the association took a dark turn in junior high through hilariously pairing my name with Herpes the Love Bug because herpes was the obvious evolution of ‘cooties’ and we had all just passed the developmental milestone into more risqué words. That one was fun to hear during the acne and bad haircut years.
At its worst in Grade 10 or 11, some genius figured out there was a brand of vacuums named after me. The ‘Kirby sucks’, or the more salacious hormone fuelled ‘Kirby could suck the chrome off a 57’ Chevy’ jokes happened often and I began truly hating my name and kind of my parents for naming me after an infected Disney vacuum. In an endearing twist, however, my grandmother owned a Kirby vacuum that no longer sucked, and she refused to throw it out because she felt like a traitor. She was a wonderful woman with a shockingly limited understanding of how those things are possibly related, but her solidarity was notable and appreciated.
As an adult, I have finally grown into appreciating my name, possibly because other adults are rarely as cruel as 15-year-olds, unless of course they are Republicans, or associated with the toddler beauty pageant scene. In adulthood, I have learned to embrace that which makes me stand out in a sea of Ashley’s and Kimberly’s. It is not unusual for me to be the only one of me in a room. My name is also more often remembered than other names, as there is a good chance I am the only one they may have ever met. At one point around the mid-2000s, I knew five Jason’s and three Diane’s. All of them wonderful people, but all required an additional moniker attached to their name to differentiate them from the others. Missing tooth Jason, Dance-boy Jason, Jason with the ferret, Jason of the North, Jason who owes me $20, and my favourite Jason of them all, White-boy Jason. My awesome singularity, however, has its own set of drawbacks that should not be taken lightly.
I have never owned a pencil, coffee mug or key chain with my name on it, although this has also drastically cut down on the birthday-gift-bought-at-a-gas-station that all of you common named folks surely contend with. My name is also routinely misspelled, as people have little frame of reference to build on; Kurbie, Kerbie, and Curby have all graced inter-office mail envelopes and hairdresser appointment books at one time or another. This blatant refusal to spend even half a second to consider proper spelling just solidifies my fears that society is screwed. If it’s not easy, I’m not wasting time trying to figure it out. It’s not like my name starts with a silent PN or has a silent T at the end, unlike my middle name, Pnatashat (pronounced Natasha, yet on first glance appears to be Asshat. That’s actually my brother’s middle name.)
When I had children, choosing names for them was a pretty big priority. Not only because the Canada Revenue Agency feel they have some stake in your new human, but because the right name is crucial. I have long thought that a name guides you into who you become. Those of us with curious names were given those names by our curious parents. Sometimes though, those curious parents are also just jokesters who name you after fruit or major highways because they’re trying to appear clever.
Think back to the kids you went to school with. Now think of the kid with the weird name. What are they doing these days? The parents who named their kids after constellations or fonts are the parents who now are either proud of their son or daughter’s very unique contribution to the world, or the parent who yells down to their basement to tell them their laundry is ready. It’s a little more than coincidental that your accountant is rarely named Aquarius or Times New Roman. Those are the kids who are making concept art and living at home when they are 30 because art is hard and no one understands them. Serve up a nice David or Laura behind that desk and I’m handing over my T4’s and questionable tax write-offs like there’s no tomorrow. Before the judgments begin to fall upon me and what might be seen as name profiling, let me explain how the weird names make a difference in the world.
Kids with outstanding names are maybe more likely to come from risk-taking, out of the box thinking parents. Parents who are not themselves accountants or office drones are perhaps less likely to name their child something sensible. These parents are experiential, live-in-the-moment people who feel the need to express themselves through creative means. This is certainly not a slam on parents who name their kids sensible names, because the world would not function without science and math and data, but we also need art and music and kids who live at home well past the acceptable number of years. Every Maximus, Sunny, Atticus or January that I am aware of does not work in an office. They are photographers, comedians, set builders and musicians. When their parents tagged them, they were making life in an average school system challenging, but at the same time nurturing the name into its unique glory by being an interesting place to grow up.
But, with a name that suits my sense of adventure, I say go forth, new generations, and name your kids what you feel will best reflect their personalities in 20 to 30 years! I am strangely excited for Ms. Glenjamina Erstwhile Jefferson to give the OK to her assistant, Percolator Maximerm, to make a note on my file to strain my applesauce twice. I don’t care for the lumps.