A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I wouldn't go so far as to call it an argument. Let's just say that Anita and I disagreed on the subject — good-naturedly, of course. And both of us would have rather eaten road kill than admit that the other was right.

It had to do with our last-born. Don't get me wrong — we were both excited for our fifth child to arrive nearly 10 years ago. We were thrilled that the baby would be our second son (thanks to the wonders of modern technology we knew that he was a he before he was born — although it felt like unwrapping a Christmas present the day after Thanksgiving).

And we both felt good about the name we had chosen for him.

Except for one letter.

That's where the controversy started. One of us (I won't say who) seemed to be suffering from the delusion that his name should be spelled "Jonathon" even though there wasn't one shred of supporting evidence to make the claim. The other proudly (and yet somehow humbly) cited the Holy Bible, Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and "Highway to Heaven" as examples of why the name should correctly be spelled "Jonathan."

So what do you think? Who was right? (I know — easy call. But pretend it isn't so Anita won't have to feel completely humiliated.)

OK, so maybe we made too big of a deal out of this. Our Jon would have been our Jon whether his name was Matthew, Mark, Luke or Jonathan — or even (shudder!) Jonathon. As Shakespeare's Juliet said, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."

Still, there's something special for each of us about our name, no matter what it is or how it happens to be spelled. Take my name, for example. Since both of my grandfathers were named Joseph, it's no surprise that my parents named a son Joseph. But it is somewhat surprising that it took them four sons to finally get around to doing it. When I finally asked Dad about that, the best explanation he could come up with was, "We were saving the name for you."

Which is fine except for one thing: none of my three older brothers had to live with the gnawing suspicion that someday, somewhere, they were going to have to face our ancestral Josephs and justify what they did with their name.

Of course, Anita and I inflicted the same curse upon our first son. At this point, Joe doesn't seem to mind sharing his name with the Old Man. But he does seem intent upon establishing his own definition of the word, and making my name his.

Which is just as it should be. Our names are labels that don't mean anything in and of themselves. They may reflect tradition and heritage, and they may give us a leg up on life — or a leg down, as the case may be. But ultimately they are empty words until we fill them with meaning by the way we choose to live our lives. Well used, a name can open doors, establish credibility and become an instant testimonial to an honorable reputation — "the immortal part of myself," according, once again, to Shakespeare.

Poorly used, however, a name can live forever in infamy. How many Adolphs do you know? Or Judases? Any little Saddams running around your cul-de-sac? Probably not.

"Who steals my purse steals trash," wrote (who else?) Shakespeare.

"‘Tis something, nothing; ‘twas mine, ‘tis his . . . But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed."

No matter how it's spelled.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and