A name is supposed to be a unique identifier. I was given the common name of John. When I was in school, half of my class had the name John. That wasn’t a problem, since there were only two of us third-graders in that small parochial school—me, myself, and Irene. When I started fourth grade at a public school, there were five Johns (not counting two down the hall). I got used to answering to the nickname, JW.
Children can be cruel sometimes. My classmates made fun of my middle name, Gilbert. Sometimes children take that cruelty home to their parents. One day I told my mom I hated my middle name. It broke her heart. That’s when I found out how important her older brother Gilbert was to her.
My mom has been on my heart my entire life. In spite of that, I’m more like my dad. I would rather putter in my shop that party with friends. And like him, at a regularly scheduled time, I turn on the TV and watch the fights—for my dad it was boxing, for me it’s the news. Neither one of us were on my mom’s heart her entire life. That would be her brother Gilbert. Unfortunately, he died at the age of twenty-six shortly before I was born. To honor him, she gave his name to me.
My dad died more than a decade before my mom. The day she passed, I did what my dad would’ve done if he could have—I held her in my arms as she breathed her last. To honor her, and the uncle I never knew, I use the name Gilbert—but I still prefer to answer to the name JW.