Trying to live up to his father’s name has made him a better man.
Hello. My name is Austin.
I hadn’t really given much thought as to how important a name is until my editor asked me to come up with one for this weekly column.
I wracked my brain for weeks, and the few suggestions I halfheartedly submitted were politely rejected. I didn’t want a title that was too similar to my personal blog, and the only ideas I could come up with were lame references to Star Wars flicks.
Since the Force wasn’t really strong with any of those names, I was left with Column Doe.
What does that say about my creativity?
Why was naming this column so difficult? What’s in a name anyway? I’m fairly certain that it’s the title of the article that’s going to catch a reader’s attention, but I guess a cool column name is important for the mugs, hats, and tee shirts I plan to merchandise in order to make my fortune.
I’m not going to make Trump kind of money selling “Austin’s Nameless GMP Column” sweatshirts and mouse pads, you know?
So why was I having a total brain freeze about the name?
I got to thinking about how I’ve always struggled to come up with names for the characters in my screenplays. I agonize over their names far more than I do about the actual plot of the script. I’m infamous for just making up the story as I go along and then plugging up the gaping plot holes during the rewrite process.
Not to go off on a tangent (but isn’t that what one does when he’s suffering from column name block?), but I think that writing with an outline stifles the creative process. Simply winging it allows me to explore any ideas that pop into my head, and that often leads to my best writing.
I have no problem starting a screenplay with only a vague vision of the first ten pages worked out in my head, but there’s no way I’d ever type “FADE IN” if I didn’t have the names of all the main characters finalized. In many cases, I like to have a backstory for the significance of the names as well.
That tells me I’m well aware of why a name is so important, and it also probably explains why I was blanking on a proper moniker for this column.
I wanted to get it perfect, and I was frustrated that perfection was so far out of reach, even for my ridiculously long monkey boy arms.
Just the other night, I was chatting with someone very important to me about potential baby names. She told me some of her favorites, and then asked me what I would name my child.
Obviously, based on my inability to name a column that actually existed, there was no way I was going to be able to come up with a name on the spot for a baby that only existed in my imagination.
What I told her, though, was that I would want my child to have a unique name.
Growing up, I was the only Austin I knew other than my Dad. It made me feel special that no one else in my school or the entire neighborhood shared my name.
My little sister was saddled with the sickeningly popular name of Jennifer, and you couldn’t walk down the hall in our school without at least three girls turning around whenever that name was called.
Being the only Austin made me feel like I had a super power (clearly, I was a weird kid based on that sort of thinking). Even though I was scrawny, nerdy, and socially awkward, I had an awesome name.
Yes, I will admit that I secretly thought of myself as “Awesome Austin.”
Don’t judge. I had to give myself that nickname because there is no natural one for Austin. Aust, Austy, and Austy Wausty just don’t sound right. Augie has a certain appeal, given that Augustine is my patron saint, but I’ve never been able to get anyone to call me that.
Of course, I grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, so the bullies simply made up nicknames for me. I was most frequently referred to as “Austin from Boston,” which really bothered me because all New Yorkers are genetically engineered to hate Boston, its residents, and its pathetic sports teams.
Plus, rhyming is just annoying.
I don’t know how many times I was asked if I was from Texas because Austin is the state’s capital. Because of this, “Tex” and “Houston” got added to the list. How clever!
I was also called “Steve Austin.” Long before the wrestler with that name hit it big in the ring, kids my age were glued to their televisions watching The Bionic Man aka The Six Million Dollar Man. That nickname wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t also been mockingly called “The Bionic Nerd” or “The Six Million Dollar Geek.”
Later, it was “Austin Powers,” which I actually liked because I’m a huge Mike Myers fan. Yeah, baby!
I ignored all those disparaging variations of my given name because the only thing that mattered to me was that I was Austin, Jr. I was named after my Dad, who was my hero, and the man I still strive to emulate today, even though he hasn’t been around for the last quarter century.
Remembering why I was named Austin finally made me realize just how important a name is.
Trying to live up to my father’s name has made me a better man. There’s no way I’d ever let him down and sully the name for which he’d earned a certain reputation.
With that in mind, I set out again to name this column. This time, I opened my mind to the idea that like me, this column would strive every week to live up to its name. The name had to be a challenge, a goal, and something that set it apart from all the other columns on this site.
Calling it Austin, III had some appeal, but that really sounded like the name of a future Pope, rather than a present day humor column.
As a New Yorker hiding out in Maine, I finally settled on a name that evoked both the column’s heritage and its current inspiration.
Welcome to Whoopie Pies & Yankees.
That’s its name. Feel free to wear it out by sharing this column all over social media.
I invite you to come back every Friday to see if it follows in its author’s footsteps and lives up to its unique name.
I’m hoping it does because I’d love to make Austin, Sr. proud.
Photo: Nan Palmero/Flickr
And read Austin’s column every week on The Good Men Project!