A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


My parents were staunch traditionalists, especially when it came to naming their children.

They didn't go for names that were fancy or cutesy or faddish. They preferred good, solid, traditional names preferably something with family ties.

For example, my eldest sister, Jean Ellen, was named for my Mom's mother. My second sister, Helen Jo, was named for my Dad's mother. My third sister, Wanda Lynne, received her mother's name much to Mom's chagrin (Mom didn't much care for the name; "The only thing that goes with Wanda is witch," she would say. "Wanda the witch!"). And my youngest sister, Kathryn Ann, was named for . . . well, I don't know who Kathy was named for. But it's a nice, solid, traditional name, don't you think?

Among my brothers and I the naming was similarly traditional with one interesting paradox. My eldest brother was Bud Jr. I'll bet you can guess who he was named for. Then came Richard Arrowsmith, whose middle name is Mom's maiden name. Then came Robert Max, whose middle name is a tribute to one of Dad's brothers, who died as a teenager. And then there's me, named for both of my grandfathers, who shared the name Joseph.

Which bring me to that paradox. Given my parents' propensity for using family names, and given the fact that both of their fathers were named Joseph, why did it take them four sons before they finally got around to naming one of their boys Joseph?

Not that I mind or anything. I've always liked my name. It's . . . you know . . . solid. But I can't help but wonder why Dick wasn't Joe. Or, at the very least, why Bob wasn't.

"It's because we were saving that name for you," Dad said sweetly when I finally got around to asking the question. Unfortunately, Dad was in his late eighties at the time and could barely remember his own name, let alone the reason for mine. Mom would have given me a straight answer (Mom was famous for her straight answers -- and her fried chicken), but by the time it occurred to me to ask the question she had been gone for 15 years.

I've asked other, older members of the family, and the best explanation they could come up with is this: Mom and Dad figured they took care of the Joseph situation with Helen's middle name, Jo. But if that were true, what made them change their minds when I was born? And why wasn't I named William (a traditional Arrowsmith family name) or Henson (a traditional Walker family name) or Lyle (the name of the man to whom Mom was engaged when she met Dad which wouldn't have been given to me in a million years, but would have made for a great story, don't you think?).

So I'm left with a genealogical paradox for which there is no meaningful answer at least not in this life. And yes, I know in the cosmic scheme of things, it isn't that big of a deal. A sizable number of the people on this planet manage to slog their way through day after day without knowing why they have the names they have. But it's frustrating to know that I could have known this little grain of truth from my personal and family history had I only thought to ask the question when the people with answers were still around.

How about you? I'll bet there's something you'd like to know from your history a name, a date, a place, a reason why. If people with answers are still available, call them today. You'll enjoy the conversation, and you'll probably learn something interesting about yourself and your family that you didn't know.

And who knows? You might even eliminate a paradox.

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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