A Plea to Potential Parents (Or, “His Name Wasn’t Really David”)
Living in New York has made me shy. It’s possible that I have just become more introverted in recent years, but I think the city is to blame. Being around millions of people who want nothing more than to be left alone so they can carry out their business means learning to hesitate before saying anything. But a few weeks ago I did something I don’t usually do: talked to someone I had never met.
What most drew me to him was that he was reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a beautifully poetic memoir about life, art, love, and friendship in 1960s-70s New York. And yes, he was attractive, but I didn’t expect anything to come of our talk. An awkward adolescence spent at an arts high school and college years studying theater in New York has led me to the belief that a man is “gay until proven straight, taken until proven single, and not interested until he has attempted to put his tongue in my mouth.” Still, I could take a step to overcome my recently-acquired social nervousness.
“Is that Just Kids?” I said. “I love that book.”
“Yeah?” He said, glancing up at me. “Do you think she name-drops a bit too much?”
“I think she’s just being casual about it, which can come off as boasting, but it’s not intentional.” Perhaps I was projecting in this case: I’ve tried to be casual about the weird things I’ve done and people I’ve met, but people have told me that just makes me seem more of a name-dropper. If there’s ever a good way to tell an interesting story about a famous person in a casual manner, I have not yet found it.
He had turned to face me now, big blue-green eyes staring right at me. Eye contact makes me nervous, so I did what I do when I’m nervous: keep talking. “What I like most about is not just that it creates such a true-to-life image of New York in those days, but it has an open, earnest quality. I think that’s lacking in a lot of literature and pop culture today, where cynicism seems to prevail.”
“That’s so true.” His eyes had lit up. He actually seemed interested. “Are you an artist?”
“No, I’m a writer,” I said, though I felt like I was lying, as I always do. (When I get my first check for writing, I will photocopy it and frame it.) But he seemed impressed: “That’s sick!” His slang made me wonder how long it would be before he discovered I was not cool. But I did not have to worry about that: he stood up and gave me a legitimate excuse for having to leave. He had implied that he worked nearby, as did I, so I figured I would see him again. And before he walked off, he turned back and said, “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Mara. I’m David.” And that’s when I knew, even on the off chance he was straight and the even less likely chance he was interested in me, I could not date him.
Not only is “David” the name of a former boyfriend of mine, but it’s also the middle name of one the last guys I went out on a date with, and very close to both an extended family member and a former roommate’s name. And his name wasn’t even “David.” That’s just a substitute I’m using for anonymity. His name was actually much less common than that.
I’ve been through this before. All throughout college I dated the same guy, who happened to share a name with my brother, my step-uncle, my step-cousin (he’s a “junior”) and my brother-in-law. I asked him once why his parents had given him such a common name, and he said that his mother had read a study that said men with common first names tend to have high self-esteem. But surely she (a Jewish mother) would have wanted him to procreate at some point? Why had she no regard for the poor Nice Jewish Girls with memories of brothers and fathers and cousins and Hebrew school buddies with the same name?
I would therefore like to make a request to potential parents (and I suppose I am speaking to mostly white, middle-class Americans who have no cultural naming traditions): please be more creative with naming your sons.