Hi. My name is Oliver and my full name is “Oliver Andrew Miller.” This is a problem for two — no, wait — for three reasons that I will quickly discuss.
- My first, last, and middle names all have six letters in them. So… 6… 6… 6. Kind of freaky, no?
- There used to be a journeyman NBA player named “Oliver Miller.” This hinders my writing career, because if you Google my name, you’ll get 14,000 listings for Oliver Miller, former center for the Phoenix Suns and Arkansas Razorbacks. Really, I should use my middle name for my professional career, but calling myself “Oliver Andrew Miller” is so pretentious that I can’t make myself do it. “Oliver A. Miller” is even worse.
- My monogram is “OAM,” which is that Zen meditation sound, which is dopey.
Originally, my name was supposed to be “Ben,” which is way more Jew-y than “Oliver”; but that makes sense, since I am Jewish. But my great-grandfather Ben was still alive when I was born — and according to Judaic law, you can’t be named after a living relative. This is a weird rule that I have never been able to get to the bottom of. Are Jewish people just easily confused? “Oh, are you referring to ‘Ben,’ the 90-year-old retired lawyer who lives in Philadelphia, or ‘Ben’ the two-month old baby who lives in the suburbs?”
So I got named my current name, and my cousin got “Ben” instead, after Ben 1.0, um, died. My cousin eventually turned out to be gay, which I never would have guessed until my mom told me, because my cousin is from England. Here’s the conversation that we had about that–
MOM: “So Ben just moved in with his boyfriend.”
ME: “Ben has a boyfriend?!!!”
MOM: “You knew Ben was gay, right?”
ME: “Mom, Ben is English.”
ME: “So how was I ever supposed to be able to figure that out?”
My mother then frowned and furrowed her eyebrows at me.
For some reason, a certain percentage of people — about 20% — feel compelled to ask the following questions when they meet me:
- Oh, so your name is “Oliver.” Do you like that book “Oliver Twist”?
- Wow, so you must love that musical “Oliver!”
- Hey, so do you like that movie “Oliver & Company”?
I have no idea why people ask these things either. But the answers are: “Sort of,” “No,” and “‘Oliver & Company’ is fine if you think the big problem with Charles Dickens is a lack of kittens and Billy Joel songs.”
…But the real answer is, “What a completely stupid/bizarre question! Why the fuck would you ask that? …Huh? People don’t automatically like things because of their names. Do people named ‘Julia’ automatically love all Julia Roberts movies? I’m sorry that I have a slightly unusual name, but in conclusion… you’re a fucktard.”
In elementary school, things were bad for me, name-wise. Here is a partial list of the nicknames that I got called in school: “Oliver Twist” (duh), “Oliver Twisted,” “Olive Oyl,” “Liver,” “Oh, Liver,” “Olive Oyl Tinfoil” (weird), and “Muhammad Ali” (my friend Sam called me this; I liked this one).
The name-based taunting would have been less severe if I had been cool and athletic, but I was skinny, awkward, had glasses, a bowl-cut that my mom cut herself, and I wore sweatshirts that my grandmother bought at Goodwill. I would have been teased mercilessly no matter what, but in combination with the weird name, the result was… not good.
The other nickname that I had was “Nerdy Birdy,” which has nothing to do with my name. But I was called it by the girl that I had a crush on, so it doubly hurt. According to her, when I ran on the playground, I jutted my elbows out in the back, making me look like a bird, I guess. Shrugs.
Around the time I turned 22, things changed for me and my name. Instead of calling me “Olive Oyl,” girls would have this response when I told them my name:
“Oliver? I love that name. That’s such a cu-uuuute name.”
“I love that name! I have a cat named ‘Oliver’!”
According to my independent, unverifiable research, about 34% of the girls in the New York City metro area have cats named “Oliver.” I have been unable to figure out why this is or what this means.
Anyway, this was the start of a good period for me and my name. Possibly this was due to the laws of karma, I’m not sure. At any rate, having a name that was suddenly “cute,” “quirky,” “alterna-ish,” and “British-y” helped me have sex with a bunch of hipster girls in NYC, so thanks for that, mom and dad.
Based on all of the above, I guess I’d be willing to give my kid a “unique” name. In fact, my top two kids’ name choices are as follows: “Dannon” (yes, like the yogurt; it’s a long story; works for a boy or a girl), and “Illyana” (come from a member of the teen “X-Men” group “The New Mutants”; only works for a girl.)
Yes, this will be a pain in the ass for both of my hypothetical kids in their younger years (especially for, er, Dannon). But then, when they grow up, they can have a cool name! They can be in a hip band and not be named “Bob Jones” or “Jennifer Smith” or some such! People will want to sleep with them. Either that, or they’ll be so emotionally traumatized by the years of name-based taunting that they will turn into socially maladjusted reclusive Unabombers. Either/or. But hey, sometimes you gotta roll the dice and take a chance.
A final note about my name. As mentioned above, I don’t really like the novel “Oliver Twist” that much. (“Great Expectations” is much better.) But when I was a little kid, my grandma used to make me oatmeal and then, when I asked for seconds, would try to make me do the “More gruel, please?” thing from the book. I always hated this. I would screech “Grandma, no!” and run out of the room.
But I just realized something. Right now, as I am typing this, I am completely broke. I’m sitting in a cafe typing up this article, and I have $60 to my name, so to speak. I am completely broke. And homeless. I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping tonight. …So maybe names are destiny, after all.
If I had been named “Ben,” would I have turned out gay? Will my future hypothetical son “Dannon” end up liking a certain mass-marketed brand of yogurt? Will “Illyana” become a mutant? I don’t know.
But my name is Oliver, and as of today, I am homeless. Like the child in the book, I have floppy blond hair, and I’m wearing a tattered scarf and a T-shirt with a hole in it, and I don’t know where I’ll be staying tonight. I can’t go stay with my parents; my wicked stepmother hates me. So… I’m an orphan. Just like Oliver Twist. And I don’t even know how to pick pockets, and I have no Fagan to teach me.
I was thinking about all of this, and then I was going to end this essay by typing something profound; something like, “I AM AN ORPHAN OF AMERICA.” But that’s really pretentious; plus, it’s a line from “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”
So, I’ll end this essay this way instead:
…More gruel, please? …Sir?