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So here’s the thing: I’ve been here before. Sort of.
Back from late 1989 until even later 1993 I worked at The News-Enterprise. That’s where the “sort of” comes in. Back then, I was a staff writer, and my byline read Bob Villanueva. This time around I’m a features writer, and, well, you can see my byline.
Sure, I’ve thought about how I’ve come full circle and how history repeats itself. I’ve also thought about how changes are inevitable and how the more things change the more they stay the same. I’ve even thought about the implications of déjà vu in a post-industrialized world fraught with psychological and social desensitization. (Okay, so maybe I didn’t really think about that last one much.)
None of that compares to the deeply intellectual manifestation that plagues me. And that is this: Am I denying my Bob-ness?
Sure, Robert is my legal name, and Bob is its laid-back alias. But does changing how you wish to be addressed indicate a change in how you want to be perceived?
And what does a name denote anyway? I’m still a writer, whether staff or features, with the same desire to express myself through the written word. If you were William Shakespeare, you might say “A Bob by any other name would still spell as neat.” (Okay, you wouldn’t say that if you were The Bard. Sorry, Will.)
The point is our names, in so many ways, define us, not by changing who we are on the inside but by displaying who we want to be — or who others want us to be — on the outside. And our friends, family and even strangers attach certain feelings, memories or attributes to names. Think nicknames, pet names and courtesy titles.
In fact, with few exceptions I can generally tell how long a person has known me by how they greet me.
If I hear “Hey, Robert” I know that person has known me probably no more than six years, since it was about that time when I started introducing myself locally by my given name.
If I hear “Hey, Bob” I know that person has known me probably longer than six years.
If I hear “Hey, Bobby V.” I know I’ve run into someone from my college days, someone I knew 25-30 years ago.
If I hear “Hey, Bobby” I know the person is as old as I am (read as “getting long in the tooth”) because it is likely someone who knew me in high school or grade school, some 30 to 40 years ago. Yikes!
If I hear “Hey, you,” I’m probably standing in someone’s way.
But the fact of the matter is I don’t mind being called Bob. Some people who have known me for a while have had trouble calling me Robert when they’ve always called me Bob. And that’s okay. Others are determined to make the switch, even when the resulting greeting might sometimes come out: “Hey, Bob-ert!”
I truly appreciate their efforts.
So why the change after so many years? What possessed me to abandon the informally comfortable moniker that glides off so many tongues like nectar from a Utopian garden flower? (Okay, so that might be stretching it a bit. It doesn’t have to be Utopian.)
My reason for switching to my given name mostly had to do with my creative writing pursuits. I had long used my given name when submitting short stories, poems, essays and articles to literary magazines. It just felt more suitable to me. But it wasn’t until the past six years or so that I began using it when introducing myself in person.
In fact, not using my legal name all those years has been, in effect, denying my Robert-ness.
Yeah … I see it so clearly now.
I must embrace my Robert-ness and become the best Robert I can be while not denying my inner Bob-osity.
So if I hear “Robert,” I’ll answer. If I hear “Bob,” I’ll answer.
And if I hear “Hey, You,” I’ll make sure to move out of your way.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.