Names are interesting. They are (in general) the one permanent thing about us that someone else has chosen. Our parents, knowing nothing about us, saddle us with these monikers, and we grow up with them. How do they change us? How might we have been different, had we been given a different name? And for those who change their names, why do they change them, what do they change to, and why did they pick the new name?
Perhaps because of this fascination (along with the fact that I have trouble remembering the names of people I meet), names sometimes get stuck in my head. Names like Heiliger Dankgesang and Sandra Day O’Connor will drop into my head from nowhere and stick around for days, like that annoying song stuck in your head.
The other day, it was Yngwie Malmsteen. I mentioned this and was immediately told that the guitarists name was actually Yngwie J. Malmsteen (to distinguish him from all the other Yngwie Malmsteens out there), which led to a discussion of middle initials, which led to the question:
What does the R.A. in Kurt R.A. Giambastiani stand for?
Well, it isn’t rheumatoid arthritis.
During my gestation, my parents discussed names. My father wanted to name me Dario which, from my current viewpoint, would have been a killer first name. Imagine Dario Giambastiani on the cover of a book. My mother vetoed this, saying it was too unusual and ethnic (hey, it was the ’50s and “fitting in” was the thing to do). So she picked Kurt, a name that had absolutely no familial resonance, clashed with my surname, and was only marginally less unusual than Dario. Go figger.
When it came to my middle name, my father gave me the same middle name that his own father had: Robert. It was also the first name of my dad’s elder brother.
So it was that I went through the first decades of my life with a hodgepodge of names: Kurt Robert Giambastiani. It was a mouthful, and people screwed up my first name (calling me Kirk, Curtis, or Craig) about as often as they screwed up my last, but when someone called out “Kurt!” I knew they wanted me, and when I heard “Kurt Robert!” it was a sure thing that I was the one in trouble and absolutely no one else.
Then, in 1979, my Grandpa Kelly, my father’s father died. I spoke at his funeral, and helped carry his casket to the grave. All his life, everyone had called him Kelly, but his given name was actually Achilles Robert Giambastiani. My father had been given Achilles as his own middle name, there the name’s travel stopped. My kid brothers both had A-names as their middle name, but neither had been given Achilles.
This, I felt, was not right. This was a bit of family history that I didn’t want to die out.
So I took it. I didn’t announce it, and never really explained it to my family. I just plopped it down there as a second middle name and became its guardian, thinking I’d hold on to it until my siblings had sons of their own and could pass it along. I never officially changed it, so as far as the government is concerned, I’m Kurt Robert Giambastiani, but for all other purposes and especially in my writing, I’m Kurt Robert Achilles Giambastiani.
Which, as one of my smart-ass friends quipped, distinguishes me from all the other Kurt Giambastianis out there. Snark.
Unfortunately, my brothers both had daughters so, when I die, so will Achilles.
Unless it lives on, printed on the spine of my novels.