Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I've never liked my name.

And I do mean never. I distinctly remember disliking it when I was in Kindergarten, and announcing to my mother from time to time that I had changed my name. I don't remember any of the names I came up with, but they were all radically different.

It's a nickname magnet, for one thing. "Doily." Yes, yes, I get it; a little lace thing associated with old ladies, and it's my name with a little flourish on the end. How droll. Speaking of "Droll," that's what one upperclassman decided to nickname me during my freshman year in college. Funny once; not all that funny nine months later. Then there was "Bananas," which was a reference to the Dole fruit company, "Doyle in boiling oil," which has a slightly more sinister cast in the post-Guantanamo world, and my personal favorite, "Doyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyle," intoned like the twang of a plucked spring. That last one is the only one that, looking back, I think was actually reasonably cute. But when I was eleven years old and it was still fresh, I hated it.

That, I think, is just one sign of how wound up I was as a child. I was a bad-tempered little kid. I have another memory from one of the first days in second grade: a friend of mine, with the unfortunate name of Christy Slaughter, whom I'd loved to play with during Kindergarten and first grade, told me one day, "You're a lot meaner than you used to be." And I remember thinking that, as startling as it was to hear it, she wasn't wrong. I had a big vocabulary and fast reflexes, and I didn't like myself very much, so I put into play the strategy of making the best defense out of a good offense, and I hurt a whole lot of people's feelings over the years.

Debate pulled that tendency in two different directions. In one sense, it made it worse, since debaters tend to have a taste for an artful cheap shot, and I certainly didn't need any encouragement to be more creative with my cruelty. But for several years, that's exactly what I got. The pull in the other direction was, for want of a better phrase, combat fatigue. Eventually I just got fed up with all the nastiness, and jaded and cynical about the scrappiness that most debaters have. It's much easier, in the wake of that, to turn loose of aggravation and walk away from arguments.

Not that I've banished that flaw. No, no, not by any stretch. That side of me still comes out from time to time, especially when students probe a little too hard for loopholes, or when someone I care about is falling short of what they're capable of. But I like to think I grew into someone who was pretty adept at letting unimportant things roll off, and saving my fire for the fights that needed to happen.

This started out being about my name, didn't it? It wandered away. I know that in the Bible, often people's names were changed when they reached turning points in what God had planned for them. What I can say here is that although I've never exactly fallen in love with my name, I'm at least at peace with it now. I don't hate it, although I certainly would never pass it on to any hypothetical kids. So maybe in a sense I did experience a name change to go with my mellowing.

One or two people who read this may burst out laughing and say to themselves, "If this is mellow Doyle, I would hate to have met angry Doyle." All I can say to that is, yes, you would. And there's a longer story that goes with that, but it'll have to wait for another day when I don't have unfinished grading still tugging at my sleeve. It would make a great country song -- maybe I'll slide it to Brad -- because the best title for it would be, "God spoke to me at the Wal-Mart."

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