Names

My name was an accident. Dad had wanted me to have his name, somewhere in there. It was either going to be “Jonathan James” or “Michael Jonathan,” but Mom had been drug-delirious after the birth and told the nurses my name was “Michael James.” Mom liked it and let it stick—which is just as well because Jonathan was an asshole. That’s what Mom told me anyway and I believe her. Dad left before I could make a memory of him, and that seems like an asshole move to me.


When calling the roll, my 11th grade US History teacher, Mr. Leighton, would call me Kenneth. “Matt,” I would say. This didn’t happen everyday–but most days. It’s not his fault, really. Anyone looking at my name on paper makes the same mistake. My parents insisted on calling me by my middle. I just go by Kenneth now–Ken. It’s easier for everyone else, and so it’s easier for me. But when I go home, Mom calls me Matt. Two people: Ken and Matt–one away, one at home–but I don’t think that makes me much different from anyone else.


“Could you repeat your name for me again, Ma’am?”

“Maybelle.”

“Two words?”

“No–one.”

“M-A-Y-B-E-L-L?”

“E.”

“What?”

“There’s an E at the end.”

“Oh, okay–different.”

“Thanks.”

“Pretty, though.”

“Thanks.”


When Claire was pregnant with her first child, she kept an evolving list of names in her purse. When she’d hear a new one and knew she liked it–or wondered whether she liked it–she’d pull out the list, unfold it and pencil in the new name. It was a long list.

When around friends, and more frequently when around family, Claire would share the names, looking for opinions, trying to read the truths behind “Oh, how nice” and “Yeah, maybe” and “I don’t know about that one.”

When Claire was pregnant with her second child, she kept another list, similar to the first. But she never shared it.


His name was the least important thing about him, but nothing could have been more important in the moment when I couldn’t remember it.

“Tell us anything you can remember, Morgan—anything about him can help,” the officer said.

I could remember him at the hotel bar, how I had thought he wasn’t that handsome—unibrow, ears too small for his head—but was confident and well dressed. I remembered how he wasn’t afraid to talk to me and how he made me laugh–I mean really laugh, not polite and false chuckles. I could remember how I had gone to his room with him and how I had wanted to have sex, expected to. He wanted to do it, too, but he made it hurt. He wanted to hurt me. I remembered the names he’d called me, and how he had spit on me, how he had used his spit. I remembered how he’d hit me as though he needed to break me.

But I couldn’t remember his name–or if he’d even said his name. And I hated myself for following a man to his room without knowing his name.

“It’s okay,” the officer said. “If he had told you, it most likely wouldn’t have been his real name.”

That was a long time ago. I still don’t know his name.


Jack knew they were his friends because they’d given him a new name. All the boys had nicknames, and if you were one of them you had one, too. You couldn’t make your own name. And it was never discussed. It just happened–one boy–the alpha, usually–would say it and the rest would fall in.

“Jug,” Nicks had called him.

“Jug?” Jack had said.

“Yeah, that big-ass head. Looks like a jug.”

So the boys called him Jug, and Jack was grateful for it.

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