Friday, January 06, 2012

A Ken By Any Other Name...

We human beings sure do go by a few names through our lifespan, don't we?

Take me. I was born Boy Baby B. My twin, Monty, died two days later, the two of us having decided to make quite the early appearance. Christened Kenneth Cecil Joseph Breadner, I toddled through my toddlerhood looking very much like a Kenneth. Or a Winston. Don't all babies resemble Winston Churchill?

My first nickname, "Macaw", is still with me today. My father--whose name is also Kenneth Breadner, and let me tell you the confusion that can cause--bestowed "Macaw" on me at two years of age because, I'm told, "all I ever did was squawk and shit." Despite the ignoble derivation, I have no problem whatsoever being called the point where Eva is Lady Macaw.

I was Kenny throughout my childhood. This wasn't much of an issue with my peers--the best they could do to taunt me was to chant "Kenny-penny", which didn't bother me overmuch. It was, as I say, an issue when I was with my dad, because half the world would call him Kenny and me Ken, the other half would call him Ken and me Kenny, and both of us would respond to either. (Dad has the surface dignity of a Ken and at times even a Kenneth, but his heart is forever and ever practical-joker Kenny.)

It could get confusing. My aunt Dawna hit upon calling us Big Kenny and Little Kenny...and slowly, over time, that soured "Kenny" for me. I read somewhere that the -y suffix to a name denoted "little" as it was. Calling me "little Kenny" made me feel doubly small. Of course, by grade four I'd developed a whole new set of nicknames that made "Kenny",  little or otherwise, seem positively benign.  These dark sobriquets included "spazz", "geek", "nerd", "quad"--short for quadriplegic, I guess--and a host of others that did very little for my self-image or self-esteem.
Faggot was one of those. Over the years I've had even close relatives question my sexuality in hushed tones I wasn't meant to hear. Myself, I've never had to question it too much. I've had a couple of gay experiences--like a lot of straight guys--but I have never once looked at a man and thought wow, I gotta have that.
Of course, kids on the playground don't have such a narrow definition of faggot. Anything that's different will get you branded a faggot, and that goes double if the difference is stereotypically feminine in any way. I hated violence with a passion, which only gave a certain breed of person a passionate desire to inflict violence upon me. Most of that went unreported to my parents and especially my teachers. I laugh ruefully whenever I hear adults counselling kids to either stand up to their bullies or turn them in. Most of the put-upon kids in the world have neither the physical ability nor the self-confidence to "stand up" to a grasshopper, and as for reporting the bullying? Please.  Back then, that was a good way to make it worse. And today, all it does is get the bully suspended or expelled from school--which is a reward, not a punishment. (How many bullies do you know who enjoy school?)
Besides, expulsion frees up Mr. Bully to lie in wait for you.  If you're stupid enough to rat on the guy, you get what you deserve.

Somewhere, beneath layers and layers of calluses I've painstakingly assembled, all those derogatory nicknames still resonate and always will. Including faggot, incidentally. Being repeatedly called any number of homophobic slurs can give someone all the makings of a gay activist, without the gayness. Several people close to me are gay, and that's the biggest reason I make a point of writing about gay rights from time to time...but there's also the remembrance of being called a gaylord queerboy cocksucking ass-bandit, and how that hurt, and how it was meant to hurt. It'd be nice to live in a world where none of those words had any intrinsic hurtfulness attached to them, a world where being gay was no more remarkable than, say, having red hair. We're a long, long way from such a world.


By high school I insisted everyone who wasn't a relative call me Ken. Most complied, although a few smartasses called me Kenneth instead...which I would counter by adding an '-eth' to their names, until they got the point. Kenny? "Nobody calls me Kenny, so you must be nobody." That point usually took longer to sink in, for some reason.

I tried, mightily. to suppress that first middle name. Cecil is not a common name nowadays, and as I said already, anything uncommon is ammunition, nothing more or less. It didn't help much to know the name ultimately derives from the Latin for 'blind'. I'm not blind, but I can certainly act that way. I'm proud of Cecil now, of course. My grandfather wore that name with distinction and there's no reason I can't too.

Pop culture yields any number of silly name-fads. For years after A Fish Called Wanda came out, I was "K-k-k-ken". Don't get me started on South Park. I've often wondered if the Johns of the world go through similar things. In the late fifties, was every John a "Johnny B. Goode"? Do kids actually equate your name with a toilet?

My latest nickname took hold back at Price Chopper, and was, in hindsight, inevitable. It started as "Kenny G." and a friend named Craig morphed it into "G-Baby". At first I hated it. Baby? That's worse than little Kenny! I'm freakin' forty in February, why would I want the word 'baby' near my name? But as the nickname spread like a fungus, I grew to tolerate it, even appreciate it. Mostly because it was the first nickname I'd sprouted since 'Macaw' in which I sensed not even the barest hint of malice or condescension. I started calling Craig "C-note" back. All in good fun.

One day the receiver in my new store called me "Kenny G." I groaned out loud, but inside was pretty pleased. It means I'm accepted. It's nice to have a nickname that means I'm accepted. Even if that nickname is "G-Baby".


Anonymous said...

:) no matter what your name is or how you call yourself, To me You will always be Amazing!

Ken Breadner said...

Well, thank you. 8-) I really didn't write this to get showered in praise. Really, I didn't. But I'll take it and gladly. Anon, I'm pretty sure you're amazing, too.