This week’s question is from Associate Editor Erik Adams:
Billy Madison’s on at the gym, which makes me think: What fictional character do you hate sharing a name with? Even with the incorrect spelling, I feel like Eric from Billy Madison has forever sullied my first name.
I have never played Mortal Kombat—I came to brutal, bloody fighting games a little later in life—but as a teenager, I’d often meet guys who would exclaim, “Oh, like Sonya from Mortal Kombat!” Sonya—or to be exact, Lieutenant Sonya Blade—is the only woman in the original 1992 game, and of course, is thin, blonde, and busty. I’m none of those things, so it was a bit of an awkward comparison, even though she’s badass. But after the second and third and fourth person, I began to get the distinct feeling that my name reminded these boys of one of their first on-screen crushes. Which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but, you know, they could have hid their disappointment a little better.
Growing up with the same first name as Jason Voorhees wasn’t all that bad. I was entranced by horror films as a kid, and the hockey-masked slasher of the Friday The 13th franchise was one of my favorite bad guys in movies. But my family moved around a lot, and it did suck that my first day of class at every new school invariably came with at least on wisecrack about how I might murder everyone at recess. At the same time, I think I kind of sickly enjoyed that. Things only got weird after I’d grown up, around 2003, which is the year of the release of the Nightmare On Elm Street/Friday The 13th crossover, Freddy Vs. Jason. You see, my dad’s name is Fred.
I have a relatively unusual name, which sucks when you’re a kid looking for personalized pencils or whatever, but largely exempted me from name-based teasing when I was growing up. And then stupid Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation came along, stood around wide-eyed like an awkward blonde doe in the background of episodes for a while, had sex with Data, and got killed by sentient tar. For years after Denise Crosby bailed on the show and Tasha Yar croaked, I could tell TNG fans from ordinary, safe folk because of how often they greeted me with some variant on “I thought you were dead!” or various extra-clunky Tasha Yar lines. Occasionally someone will also tell me, in a bad Russian accent, “ve must get moose unt sqvirrel,” but that happens rarely enough that at this point it’s a novelty compared to the Tasha Yar thing.
There are some fictional namesakes I like—I’m honored to share my name with Doctor Who’s Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart—and there are some I don’t mind—I’ve had more than one person tell me they know my name from some children’s books about an inquisitive nerd, which fair enough—but there’s only one that particularly annoys me: Harry Potter’s Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. I mean, really, “Alastor”? What the hell kind of spelling is that? Even if J.K. Rowling didn’t want to go with my ultra-Gaelic spelling, she could have at least gone with the standard “Alistair”—you know, like a sane person. Well, unless she named Mad-Eye Moody after the Greek mythological figures, I guess, in which case I’m still irritated, just with even less of a coherent reason to be.
Considering that ecstasy doesn’t count (music festivals have been really confusing for me for a couple years), I would have to go with the heroine of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.” It’s a great song, but a former coworker who I despised used to refer to me as such on a regular basis, thus driving me to the brink and ruining it. Alas, the song had already been sullied: In middle school, the “sure like to ball” lyric was turned into “sure likes to bone,” in my honor. I promise, as a seventh grader, I did not. Good thing I am mature enough to get past those previous traumas to continually enjoy John Goodman’s performance of the song from the classic film, King Ralph.
Growing up in Massachusetts, there was a perfectly good namesake just sitting there—Dennis Eckersley. One of the greatest Red Sox pitchers ever, cool hair—he could even pull off a porn ’stache without looking like a creep. So of course, everyone called me Dennis The Menace. Look—I’m sure Hank Ketcham was a perfectly nice guy, and his little comic strip was… competent. But the combination of that one lazy rhyme and my distinctly un-menacing, shy, anxiety-prone little self was a daily disaster that just kept happening. I did not carry a slingshot, I did not make life a living hell for my elderly neighbors, and I did not utter endless streams of really unfunny one-liners afterward. Screw you, Ketcham—I know I’m really the Eck inside.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s very flattering to have someone sing about how they wish they had “Jessie’s Girl,” although when you’re a teenage dork without a girlfriend it does sound a little like mockery. But that song contributed to a lifelong pet peeve when Rick Springfield, that ignorant motherfucker, perpetuated and maybe even popularized a spelling mistake by using “Jessie” rather than “Jesse.” As I’ve occasionally (by which I mean constantly) and patiently (by which I mean belligerently) explained throughout my life, the inclusion of “i” in “Jessie” indicates that it is in some way derived from “Jessica” and therefore unlikely to be the male version of “Jesse.” I don’t mean to sound gender-normative. It doesn’t bother me that “Jesse” could be a girl’s name; I actually really like gender-neutral names. It’s just that the pedantic speller in me wants people to consider that “Jesse” is far more likely to rock that gender neutrality than “Jessie.” If I ever meet a guy named Jessica, though, I will high five him. And in fairness to the lazy, stupid war criminal Rick Springfield, my wife really likes the song regardless of spelling.
“Zack” isn’t that common—it sounds more like a Batman sound effect than a name. Still, every so often I’ll see a “Zachary” (my full name) or a “Zach” (an unholy abomination) in a book or hear it in a movie or a show, and I’ll usually be pleasantly surprised. But not always. The recent rush of Saved By The Bell nostalgia has brought back some bad memories. Saved By The Bell was a terrible fucking show, but I watched a lot of it growing up, because it was bright and obvious and seemed to be about high school. Also, the lead character was named Zack Morris, and, even going by the internal logic of the show, he seemed to be everything I wasn’t: handsome, charismatic, funny, and a hit with the ladies. He was also an asshole, and the combination fascinated me as much as it repelled me. Maybe instead of watching a crummy, condescendingly scripted attempt to fill an afternoon television block, I was getting a glimpse at a parallel universe—one where I was a monstrously popular creep. Probably not, though.
As someone who’s shortened his first name from “William” to “Will,” I spent a lot of my childhood having that “Will” slightly upgraded to “Willy” for teasing purposes. Thankfully, Sweet’s “Little Willy” didn’t get a lot of play in my neck of the woods, because I’m sure I never would’ve heard the end of it, but what I did have to endure—particularly during the winter months—was having people refer to me by the name of that little pipsqueak of a penguin, Chilly Willy. As Walter Lantz characters go, Willy was never quite as high-profile as Woody Woodpecker, but in those dark days before most families in our neighborhood had cable, our local UHF station (WYAH, Channel 27) used to run any cartoons they could get their hands on, so all the kids were sufficiently well-educated in the animation of that era to ask repeatedly, “Are you chilly, Willy?” or, “Are you really chilly all the time?” Needless to say, it was a long, long wait for Will Riker to arrive and renew the sanctity of my name.
In my experience, fictional Carolines tend to fall into one of two categories: mothers and catty girls. And while I don’t mind the motherhood connection, I really hate having my name linked to hostile girls who aren’t even cool enough to be proper villains. As such, the bane of my existence has to be Caroline Bingley from Pride And Prejudice. Vapid, self-obsessed, and totally classist, she tries to cockblock not just one but two Bennet sisters. It would be one thing if Caroline got a sympathetic reversal or committed to being a down-and-out villain (like Lady Catherine), but as is she’s just kind of a low level jerk who forever sullies the name Caroline. Even always-polite Jane Bennet manages a disparaging remark against her! And since I love Pride And Prejudice in all its forms, I’m confronted by Caroline’s awfulness every time I revisit the story. Thanks a lot, Jane Austen.