What’s in a Name?

When my youngest daughter, Gail, was nineteen years old, she decided she wanted to change her name to Abigail. I’m not sure why she wanted to do it, but she had given it a lots of thought, and it was important to her.

My lovely supermodel wife wasn’t exactly pleased with her daughter’s decision. She had also given a lots of thought to the name she had christened her youngest daughter with, and she didn’t like the idea of this whole name change thing. In fact, Lea took four days to find the perfect name for her second daughter. Lea and Steve had planned on naming her Sara, but…

“She doesn’t look like a Sara…” Lea said. They went through a lots of names before they settled on Gail. And what sold Lea on the name was one simple thing. “Yes, it’s perfect! She looks like a Gail.”

And she thinks I’m crazy…

“At least she’s not changing her name to Unicorn.” I said. “Or Butterfly. Or Queen Elizabeth III. Or Zeke. It could be so much worse.”

“I still don’t have to like it.” was Lea’s response.

Regardless of what anyone thought, Gail had made up her mind. She filed all the appropriate documentation, and made an appointment for Name Change Court. In order to legally change her name, she needed two witnesses to testify on her behalf. She chose Lea and I to represent her. Despite her feelings, Lea agreed to do this for her daughter.

* * * *

Changing your name is a relatively simple process in Minnesota. You have to be at least eighteen years of age, a resident of the State of Minnesota for at least six months, and your application has to be filed in the county in which you reside. You have to appear in front of a judge, answer a few questions, pay the court fees, and you have a new name.

I loved Name Change Court. The referee hearing Gail’s application was a friendly looking guy that reminded me of Fred Rogers from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. I imagined he was wearing a sweater under his robe.

There were several other petitioners in court that day. All of them were from Africa. We would hear all of their petitions before Gail took the stand to become Abigail. One attorney represented all of the guys from Africa. Gail didn’t have an attorney.

“Do you need an attorney?” I asked Gail, like I had a lawyer in my back pocket, or something.

“Nope. I’m good.”

Each petitioners’ case was presented separately. A petitioner was sworn in, and took the stand, then endured a grueling interrogation by Mr Rogers.

“Please state your name for the court.”

“My name is Inigo Montoya.” the first petitioner said.

“Okay.” Mr Rogers said, smiling, and checked off a box on the paperwork in front of him.

“According to the visa you entered the country with Mr Montoya, your name is Abdallah Akoya.”

“Yes. Abdallah Akoya was my cousin. He applied for the visa to come to this country.”

“Okay.” another box was checked off. “And how did you end up with your cousin’s visa?”

“He was eaten by a lion.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “Are you applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime?” Mr Rogers asked in his singsong voice. He was freaking brutal. No wonder these guys had hired an attorney.

“No. I am an honest man.” Inigo replied. Mr Rogers smiled, and checked off another box.

“Have you ever had sex with a goat?”

“No! I have never had sex with a goat!” Inigo Montoya indignantly replied. He had not been expecting that question. Mr Rogers kept on smiling, and checked off another box.

“Did you bring any witnesses who can verify the truth of your testimony?”

“I am representing Mr Montoya, and I have filed all of the appropriate documentation with the court.” the attorney replied.

“Okay!” Mr Rogers said, and that was it. Inigo Montoya had survived his grueling interrogation, and could become Abdallah Akoya.

I can’t remember how many guys from Africa endured their grueling interrogations under the benignly smiling gaze of Mr Rogers, or how many cousins had been eaten by lions, but all of them would take the stand before Gail did. And when she did, she was ready.

“My name is Gail Marjorie Markes. I want to change my name to Abigail Marjorie Markes-Covington. I’m not applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime. And I’ve never had sex with a goat.” She looked at me, and smiled a contented smile. I was so proud of her!

“Okay!” Mr Rogers smiled, and took a moment to check off all the boxes on Gail’s paperwork. “Did you bring any witnesses to testify on your behalf?”

“Yes. I brought my parents.” soon-to-be Abigail replied, and pointed to us.

“Would you please rise, and state your names?”

“I’m Lea Covington Rowen. I’m Gail’s mother, and I can vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “And you?”

“I’m Mark Edward Rowen. I’m Gail’s stepfather, and I can also vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box.

“And, your Honor,”

“Yes?” Mr Rogers smiled, and looked up from his paperwork.

“I’ve never had sex with a goat, either.”


* * * *

And that was it. Gail became Abigail. And then she became Abi. And then she got married, and ended up with a new name, again.

I’ve thought about changing my name, but I’ve been putting it off for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t become a prophet yet, and I think I’d be more believable as a prophet if I had a name that sounded more, I don’t know, prophetic.

And two, the name I’ve been kicking around has already been taken by a prophet.


So? The guy’s been dead been dead for three thousand years!

Not so. Elijah is possibly the only man that ever lived that didn’t got dead. He was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire. He may return again someday, and how would he feel meeting another prophet who had taken his name?

Elijah is described as being a big, hairy guy. He could probably kick my ass with two hairy fingers, so, I’ve been waiting.

The day may come when my foolish dream is realized. I certainly hope so, even if the life of a prophet is one of scorn and suffering…

My lovely supermodel wife has gotten used to my delusion. And if she hasn’t, she’s at least become less vocal in her opposition. And I, I have become less convinced it will ever become a reality.

Why do you want to be a prophet, Mark?

That’s a fair question, but the answer…

That’s another story.

Captain Ken

I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with some of the best nurses in the country during my career. I’ve also had the misfortune to work with some of the worst.

Darth Vader. Anyone here remember her? What a bitch she was. Unfortunately, the Naughty Nurse List consists of more than one person. And given the title of this snippet of my life, you’d probably be safe in assuming it contains at least two. It does, but Captain Ken isn’t on that list.

I worked with Captain Ken at the Minneapolis VAMC. He wasn’t really a captain, I think everyone called him that because it sounded neat. I can’t truthfully say Captain Ken was a bad nurse. He wasn’t. He was a genuinely sweet and sincere man. He was an adequate nurse, I suppose. You could never say your day was ruined because you had to work with him. But likewise, you couldn’t say your day was made by his presence.

Unless you liked his stories.

It’s been said most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. If that’s true, Captain Ken was in a league of his own. He interrupted with the intent to one up.

Any two people or group of people could be having a conversation, about anything–You could be telling a story about your first baby, and how you were in labor for 59 hours. And Captain Ken would barge in and say this: “Oh, that’s nothing,” like he had been in labor for 65 hours or something, and then he’d add, “Back when I was in Okinawa…”

Yes, all of Captain Ken’s greater than anything you’ve ever seen or done adventures had two common elements. They all occurred in Okinawa, and they all involved a nasty guy called the Commander.

Ken had been in the Navy, so maybe he actually did know a commander. But there was always something weird going on with the Commander, and it was seemingly always up to Captain Ken to save the day and keep the Commander from following through with his threats of bodily harm and injury to sweet old Ken. So, here we go.

“Oh, that’s nothing! Back when I was in Okinawa, the Commander lost one of our nuclear submarines. So he calls me into his office, it was a Saturday, and I wasn’t even on duty that day. I was supposed to be planning the surprise birthday party for the Commander’s wife… But anyhow, he calls me into his office and tells me what happened–I mean, how do you lose a submarine, right? Anyway, the Commander explains the situation, and then he says, ‘Goddammit, Ken. You find that missing sub, or you’ll have a new asshole by the time I’m through with you!”

You remember the movie, ‘Home Alone’? The iconic scene where Kevin slaps on some aftershave, and makes that face? Captain Ken made that same face every time at this point in his each of his grand adventure stories with the Commander.

I used to sync my movements in the nursing station to Ken’s stories so I would be standing right behind him when he got to this point in his narrative. I’d make the Home Alone face with Captain Ken, and then leave the nursing station entirely. It was the only part about any of Ken’s stories that I liked.

Captain Ken never failed. He found the missing sub. He surprised the Commander’s wife. He had 300 lbs of barbecue ribs and 50 lbs of cole slaw airlifted to Okinawa, overnight. He was like Superman, if Superman had been in the Navy instead of a reporter for the Daily Planet.

Whatever the situation, Captain Ken was on it. Whatever the disaster, Captain Ken surpassed it.

And I’m sure Ken has but one asshole, like the rest of us, because he never asked me, “What do you think this is?”