The Importance of Being Ernest– or Michael
Can a name define who and what you are in life?
A pregnant friend of mine was scouting out boy names the other day, preparing for the arrival of her second child.
“Boy names are hard,” she said to me as she quizzed me on the names of my two sons.
And they really are. The pressure we have as parents to give our children names they will be able to live up to or grow into. Finding a name that will represent who they are and-- more importantly-- who they could become is a lot to think about.
A name can define who you are and it can shape your life. There’s a possibility that you are given certain choices or even priviledges in life by people who decide what kind of person you are based solely on your name.
So, what if you were given the wrong name? What if you lived with a name your whole life that wasn’t yours?
A while back, my grandfather was in need of his original birth certificate. Apparently in all his years-- even during his years in the Air Force-- he never needed the original copy of his birth certificate. But then, he wanted to go on a cruise, and everyone needed proof he was American.
It was fine if he was dropping bombs in Italy during World War II, but if he wanted to go to the Caribbean, someone needed his birth certificate.
So, my grandfather went on a hunt for the original copy. So, he called the government office- gave his name and other information. Nope. No luck. Can’t find an Ernest Michael Ryan anywhere.
“Well, I’m here,” he told the worker. “So keep looking.”
“Well, I do see a birth certificate for a Michael Ryan. No middle name. Just Michael Ryan.” I am paraphrasing my Grandpa here, but this is what he said the government worker told him.
So, they started going through the other information listed on the certificate. Names of parents and location and date all matched. So, yeah, as it turns out, my grandfather’s name is Michael. Just Michael.
Apparently, my great-grandfather, the one who actually filled out the birth certificate, never liked the name Ernest, so just decided to leave it off and never told his wife-- the woman who gave birth to his son.
And then, his whole life, my grandfather was called Ernie by his mother and Mike by his father.
“Which is funny,” he tells me laughing. “Because they also had two names for the dog.”
So, as we’re all sitting around listening to this story, my dad kind of looks around and says, “So wait? I’m supposed to be a Michael?”
Yup- my poor dad is Ernest Michael Ryan, Jr. His whole life he has lived with the name Ernie.
And never once in my whole life, have I ever heard my mother call him by his given name. And his own parents just called him Butch.
But his whole life, my dad has been an Ernie to the world. With school, work and friends- they all call him Ernie. Makes me wonder what life would have been like if he had been a Mike?
Would there have been other choices in front of him because people saw him as a Mike rather than an Ernie?
Would he have been a soldier instead of a pilot? Which means he wouldn’t have been in Arizona that night and met my mother?
Or is a name just a symbol of the potential your parents gave you and it really is up to you to fill in the rest?
All I can say is thank goodness my mom stayed strong and named my brother Kevin. And no- I didn't name either of my sons Ernest either- they are Ryan and Sean.