It's just two syllables: Doug and Walsh.
It doesn't so much as roll off the tongue as much as it just sort of plops out. And once it's out, it just sits there, on the floor, practically begging to be ignored. It has no style. No substance. It's just, well, it's just two stinking syllables man! I've never liked this name I was given. I certainly didn't ask for it, and I must admit that I enjoy signing the somewhat pretentious-sounding Douglas Joseph Walsh even less than the abridged version. The last name is fine. I wasn't really ever briefed on the family background or the origin of the name, but plenty of people seem to think it's Irish so I use it to get the occasional free pint on St. Patrick's Day. At least it's good for that.
But about that first name. That's got to go. Doug. What an ordinary, nondescript name. I used to believe my parents chose it because it was a popular name back in the 1970's, but I've only ever met two other Dougs my entire life. Lucky them. I swear if Doug and plain rhymed, all those Janes out there would be off the hook. Then again, at least those women never get called Dougie Fresh. There's so much wrong with that one, I don't even know where to begin. But I digress, as usual. Doug stinks, but Douglas is far too formal. Look at me: I work from home -- and not always fully clothed -- and I'm forever mountain biking and playing videogames. When would I use Douglas? Never, that's when. Then there's the Joseph part. Far too biblical for my liking, but it is my father's name and I can at least thank him for waiting to name a son after himself until my younger brother came along. I'd have killed myself if I had been a Junior.
I used to think about changing my name. Something like Hunter, or Donovan, or Holden (yes, after the kid in the book). I always told Kristin (middle name Heidi -- very cool) that I would want to name our son Holden but she resisted. So I refused to have kids. I couldn't very well risk having a boy with no name, could I?
But getting back to me, I came to the realization that I'm simply far too lazy to change my name. That's a lot of paperwork, folks. Driver's license, passport, credit cards, mortgage documents, Social Security, etc., etc. Screw that. Doug sucks, but at least I don't have to work for it.
Unlike Kristin and all the other married women out there who take on their husband's last name. What a hassle that has to be! Put aside the paperwork headache, changing one's identity spawns a number of complexities, not the least of which is how odd it must be for the wive's parents to now see their daughter using a different surname. I remember shortly after we got married, Kristin's father called the company she was working at and asked the receptionist for Kristin Nahm. The receptionist promptly told him nobody by that name worked there and hung up the phone on him. Ouch! Fortunately, he was able to simply call back and ask for her using her new name, but what about old friends who you fall out of touch with? They can scour the Internet using her maiden name all they want, but they're not going to find anything. Unless they step into one of life's peculiar coincidences such as I.
Sometime last month I was online, reading something unimportant, and noticed an advertisement for the TheKnot.com. It's a site that people use to promote their weddings. Or so I gather. I wondered if it might have anybody featured on it that I might recognize. I thought it might be neat to click over and see if some of the people I went to high school with were getting married. So I go to the site and select Central NJ from the drop-down list to see a gallery of recent wedding photos.
You know where this is going, don't you?
If you expect me to say that my high school girlfriend's wedding photo would be staring back at me from the page, then either you are a psychic or I am a far worse suspense builder than I thought. Yes, that's exactly what I saw. Smack dab in the center of the page was Sonya's wedding photo (she kept her alliterative name in tact through marriage... a good move). We met at a road race the spring of our Junior year. We knew of one another as we were both big track stars, but lived in different towns and had never met. We dated for a year or so and then split up as we headed to college. I'm sure it was my fault. It's been 13 years. Maybe 14. I tried to look her up a couple years ago but couldn't find anything. But now, thanks to this 21st century-aided serendipitous moment, I knew her new last name.
A quick Google search found me a way to contact her through a running club. But I hesitated. I really just wanted to write and say hi and tell her that I saw her wedding photo and that I hope she's doing well, but I was afraid. I didn't want to be John Cusack in "High Fidelity". I didn't want to be that creepy ex-boyfriend writing from out of the blue and, as Catherine Zeta-Jones' (killer name, by the way) character so rightfully feared, I didn't want to be seen as the guy "wanting to find out what it all means". I just wanted to say hi.
So I had Kristin inspect the email before I hit send. She didn't mind me writing to her, but did think it was weird. I expected this reaction from her though. She's a woman. And she also couldn't relate, as we had drastically different high school experiences. But she did say that it wasn't creepy. That was what I wanted to hear. Weird I can handle. I just didn't want to be creepy. So I sent the letter. And it was well received. And the reply even included a photo of her new baby boy (can't remember his name, oops).
I was glad to get the reply and I immediately tore through a lengthy reply of my own bringing her up to speed with me, my life with Kristin, why we live in Washington, etc. Basically all the shit you guys read about on this blog. Which I appreciate, by the way. Anyway, a few weeks went by without a response. I didn't give it any thought. I did make a few joking references to things that, well, that's between she and I, but I figured 1) I either scared her off, 2) her husband asked her not to write me back, or 3) she's just really busy and maybe not much of an emailer.
Which brings me to the co-inspiration for this essay. Tonight she wrote me back, only I didn't realize it at first. It's that damn name change, I tell you. I nearly deleted the email without reading it thanks to the unrecognizable last name. And that made me laugh. Here it was complete chance that I learned the name and was able to use it to contact her, and then when she writes me back I don't recognize it and nearly ignore it. Oh, and if you're curious, the reason for the delay was hidden behind curtain number three. Hopefully I don't inadvertently delete the lengthier email she says will come soon.
A month ago my sister Jessica (extremely common for girls born in the mid 80's) left me a message saying that she had big news she wanted to share with me. My big-brother instincts kicked in and I immediately got excited. She had to be calling to tell me she got engaged. Which made me happy. I really like her boyfriend. He's a good guy. His name is Mike. And if there's anyone out there who can feel my pain regarding the whole Dougie Fresh thing, it's got to be all the Mikeys out there who don't really like it when you drop that Life Cereal crap on them. Turns out he didn't propose, though. She was going back to school and got accepted to Rutgers. But it made me wonder nonetheless, "What the hell is Mike's last name anyway?" My sister is very traditional and I just know she'll take her man's last name when she gets married. Will I be able to remember it? Will I accidentally delete her emails? Will I address the Christmas cards accordingly? It's bad enough remembering that my mom doesn't have the same last name as me (it's been 18 years and I still forget -- or refuse to learn?) but what about my little sister? Damn, that's going to be hard!
Earlier I said that Sonya's email tonight was the co-inspiration for this thread. A better writer than I might be able to seque into the other half of that inspiration cleanly, but I cannot. It's about SEEDS. Another name change, this one from a game company.
By far the worst news I had last year professionally was that Clover Studios was closing shop. This small game studio was financed by mega-corp Capcom and contained the minds behind my vote and many others' for game of the year, Okami. Over the past few years I had the privilige of authoring the guidebooks for all of Clover's big games. And I loved doing so. And none moreso than Okami. But for as magical as these games were, especially Okami, they failed to sell to an American audience that is, shall we say, lacking in taste? So Capcom gave them the boot. Or something like that. It was really one of the great tragedies of the industry, and more than likely would serve as a harbinger of events to come. Go mainstream or die, was the message.
Fortunately, the incredible artists and visionaries (those of you who read this blog know I never use these words so yes, this is special) behind Okami and Viewtiful Joe have gathered forces with the creators behind Resident Evil and Devil May Cry and formed a new company, dubbed SEEDS. Their reasoning behind the new name is that the company is a gathering of the seeds who gave birth to the wonderful flowers that were the above-mentioned games. I love this. It means something and, although perhaps a bit contrived, it completely fits the image I always had of these guys.
I'll buy anything they make sight unseen. Chances are, I won't have to as hopefully I'll continue writing guidebooks for everything they make. But what if I don't? Will I remember that SEEDS is really Clover Studios? I probably will, after all here I am writing a freaking tome about them and my ex-girlfriend and wanting to change my name to that of the kid from "Catcher in the Rye", but what about everyone else? Will they know that this newfound company is not really that new and, actually, among the very best there are?
I worry for them. Name recognition means a lot today. We see names we recognize and we open to them. Those we don't we turn away, recycle, and delete. I thought about this a lot the other day when the news of Clover Studios' rebirth was announced. But then I remembered why they're in this predicament in the first place. For as important as a name is, looks are even moreso. When I saw that wedding photo I knew who it was before seeing the name (which I wouldn't have recognized anyway) and the reaction was positive. It was a face that I associate with good memories. But in SEEDS' case, the name may be different and unknown but if the looks are the same then the public's reaction may be too. Sadly, if SEEDS' upcoming games resemble the style and design of Okami then it too will likely be ignored by a populace with an inability to learn from past mistakes. The screenshots will merely be faces that mean nothing to them and the name will be just another one-syllable utterance that is so easily forgotten.