The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of…
- by Billy Collins, from “Forgetfulness”
A true story. Years ago some colleagues and I felt the blunter edge of government as each of us was marched into separate interview rooms and summarily turfed from the crown corporation we’d worked for, some of us for more than a decade. The axe came in the form of an older, slightly diffident pensioner seconded out of retirement to do the corporation’s dirty business: a nice enough man for whom I would feel some sympathy.
Mildly irritated at the outset and a little bored I listened as he laid out the innumerable job search and re-training programs designed to ease me back into what I could only imagine to be an unending unemployment line. Feigning interest, I eventually thanked him, but added I had other plans, friends in the private sector, etc. etc. to which he replied, Well, if you ever change your mind, etc. etc. He then slid his company card across the table towards me.
Bemused, I picked up the card, glanced at the company name, and slid the card back the way it had come. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. The man’s composure completely disintegrated at this point. He apologized: “We tried to convince the owner not to attach his name to the company, but he refused.” The company commissioned by the corporation to fire me and my colleagues: Axesmith Inc., its president and CEO, Murray Axesmith.
- - -
Most people know that 2009 GG poetry winner David Zieroth was once “Dale” Zieroth. Here’s how he explains it:
“David is my first name, my second is Dale, and when I entered grade one, the teacher decided two boys with the name of David was confusing, and so because she didn't like the other David's second name--Martin--she decided I would be called Dale.
Then many years later, in the 90's, I decided to reclaim my original name and reacquaint myself with that little boy again, suspecting that he was more truly me than Dale.”
Forced to abandon him
by a grade one teacher who could not accept
two boys with the same name, I accepted
my second. I think of David
as a skin dropped, a ball
lost in the summer grass.
My parents often spoke of him
or mouthed my new name
as if I were a guest
and they were waiting
politely for his return
—because what faults I had
could never spring from him.
Well, did he grow up
through change, embarrassment,
and try to speak the lines
reserved after all for him? He never did.
When I meet him now
at dawn or just before sleep, he stands
speechless although I know he wants from me
more than words.
Lately, when I cut myself
on paper, and the sharp red line wells over
and falls, his young mouth
is pressed against my hand.
- by David Zieroth
- - -
I once agreed to the name “Will”, my middle name, after a hotel manager I and another David worked for grew tired of yelling out for “David 1” and “David 2”. A more recent decision to change my name from “Kosub” to "Godkin” prompted a friend to ask Why? In fact, I never changed my name, I told her; I reverted to my mother’s maiden name. Born “out-of-wedlock” (a phrase I assume we’ve dispensed with because of its overtones of a shuttered prison) I was given the name of my mother’s first husband. Years later I would learn not only was this man not my biological kin, he had never formally adopted me; in essence I had been living illegally as David Kosub for upwards of six decades.
So, even though I’d never had a problem using the name before, in these days of hyper vigilance around identify theft why take any chances? It also had some precedence: my brother had changed his name to our mum’s shortly before entering medical school years before, in part because he wanted to stick it to our stepfather, who had been, not to put too fine a point on it, an abusive SOB. As chance would have it, he worked as a parking attendant at the medical school my brother attended and bragged no end about his “son the doctor”. My brother’s switch to “Godkin” seemed especially apropos.
What’s more puzzling is why I hadn’t made the change sooner. I never much cared for the name after all and nor for that matter did others: early on, kids had way too much fun with the moniker (“cole slaw” and “ko-slob” were particularly irksome). I also recall a Grade Eleven teacher taking deep exception to my presence in his class by referring to me as “You, the immigrant…” Hardly a good reason to change the name and so I pressed on.
Years later, though, I continued to think about my oddly acquired name. Why did I persist in using a name which I had to spell out loud for people? How much easier “Jones” or “Smith” or yes, “Godkin” would be. And while I have an abiding affection for that nation’s literature why hold onto a distinctly Ukrainian moniker when I’ve never demonstrated talents that could be even remotely described as Slavic (the Russian leg dance has always been quite beyond me; ditto the balalaika)? In fact, rudimentary research would quickly turn up my largely Irish-Scots background, with tell-tale traces of a paternity rooted somewhere in the soil of Quebec or Acadian New Brunswick.
So there you have it. Barring some revelation about connections to French Royalty, the great, great, great grandson of an Irish potato farmer, in both lineage and name, it must be. Godkin. A solid name, with links to the powers above and to the good earth of County Wexford below.
The Name Drawn from the Names
If I have created a world for you, in your place,
god, you had to come to it confident,
and you have come to it, to my refuge,
because my whole world was nothing but my hope.
I have been saving up my hope
in language, in a spoken name, a written name;
I had given a name to everything,
and you have taken the place
Now I can hold back my movement
inside the coal of my continual living and being,
as the flame reins itself back inside the red coal,
surrounded by air that is all blue fire;
now I am my own sea that has been suddenly stopped somewhere,
the sea I used to speak of, but not heavy,
stiffened into waves of an awareness filled with light,
and all of them moving upward, upward.
All the names that I gave
to the universe that I created again for you
are now all turning into one name, into one
The god who, in the end, is always
the god created and recreated and recreated
through grace and never through force.
The God. The name drawn from the names.