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AFTERWORD I BY JAMES E. MCWILLIAMS Where Have All the Dicks Gone? IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT NAMES ARE SUBJECT TO THE WHIMSICAL TIDES OF HISTORY. At the start of each semester, without fail, at least two people in my classesusually perky little blonde girls born circa 1987 announce themselves as “Reagan.” Although the roster gives away the spelling, and thus origin, of their names, I’ll often ask, “Shakespeare or Ronald?” The looks of befuddlement are priceless, but the one or two students who snicker are, I immediately know, my confidantes. It’s no surprise that names are subject to the whimsical tides of history. It’s also no surprise that tons of children are named after presidents. The United States is teeming with Franklins, Abrahams, Woodrows, Dwights, and, although the feisty Arizonian never made it to the top, Barrys. Today it’s quite possible to meet miniature Madisons, Hamiltons, and Kennedys anywhere upwardly mobile white children congregate. Tyler, I’ve learned, is big in Texas. Vice Presidents have fared less well in the name game. The Albens, Herberts, Adlais, and Spiros of the world remain few and far between, as domost interesting of allthe Dicks. Richard Nixon and Richard Cheneyboth vice presidents and both Dickshave tagteamed this once common moniker out of existence. Proof of sorts comes from , developed by writer and software developer Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard. It’s a site that promises parents “you’ll never feel stuck for a name.” In the 1930s, according to Wattenberg’s stats, Dick was one of the most popular names in the country. Today it’s tough to find an honest Dick. Think about it: When’s the last time you’ve met a young Dick? Exactly. All the Dicks are over 70 or dead. Birth is harshand thus naming shouldn’t be. But that’s not how it works any more. The newborn exits a warm chute into a blast of fluorescent lighting and cold air. The nurses whisk him off to a hard examining table and wipe the goop from his orifices. After hosing him down into a respectable looking creature, they wrap him up like a Chipotle burrito and usher him to proud parents who, cuddling the babe, weep and coo and promise him the world. And then, perhaps inspired by Wattenberg’s assurance that her book “will guide you to more and more ideas that fit your personal taste and style,” they inflict upon their beloved the greatest pain of the entire ordeal. They name him. I should confess that the phenomenon of naming a child with an odd first name marks a sociological trend that contradicts my personal experience. I’m James. My father is James. My grandfather was James. His father was James. Even his father was James. And it’s not as if I hail from royalty. To the contrary, I owe my existence to humble people who believed that individualismif it was even worth achievingshould be achieved without the unfair boost of a distinguished \(or born in 1968, “James” was the fourth most popular name in the nation. In 1868, it was #3. And that’s pretty much why I’m James. The time-honored anonymity of Jamesor for that matter John, Mary, Ann, Carol, Chris, Robert, David, Jane, etc.has clearly fallen out of favor. Listen carefully to what parents are calling their kids on playgrounds, at birthday parties, in schools, at doctors’ offices, and in the bulk-food aisle at the Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, and you’ll understand that a profound cultural transformation is underway. Reflecting Wattenberg’s conviction that “your perfect name is out there,” parents pull names out of the ether. While I’m nothing more than an armchair sociologist, these names are not perfect, but rather designed to fulfill fantastical aspirations and do things that names were never intended to dolike force a kid into a quirky identity before he even escapes the delivery FEBRUARY 10, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29