Thanks to both a conversation with and a post by my friend Benjamin, this story occurred to me.
I grew up as Wally Jost. Today, it kind of gives me the willies … truly … to say ‘Wally Jost.’ It reminds me now and reminded me then of ‘Wally Cox,’ also known as a milquetoast Mr Peepers from a sitcom of a long time ago. Or Wally Cleaver, the Beav’s big brother. Neither of these was the sort of person I wanted to be.
While I never did like the name ‘Wally,’ I didn’t like the alternatives, either. Walter sounded way too formal; who did I think I was, Walter Cronkite? Walt was OK but, along with my last name, seemed to get tangled up around my eye teeth when spoken. “Walt Jost” was too staccato. And if I wanted to be known as ‘Walt,’ I figured I had to introduce myself as Walt Jost. “Hi, I’m Wally Jost; call me Walt,” was lame. Or so it seemed to my sensitive teenage personage.
And so I lived as Wally for many years, through High School, College, Graduate School, and the first few years of working in my profession. Then I met the love of my life … we made beautiful music together
( figuratively speaking … as you know I’ve been taking voice lessons for about 15 years and have advanced only past raw beginner ). And she said to me, ‘You’re not a Wally.’
“Tell me something I don’t know. I know that, but … “
“You’re a ‘Walter’,” she asserted, and assured me Walter was not too formal.
I tried it out; I liked it. I told people at work, my friends, “Please call me Walter. I never did like Wally and I’m doing something about it.”
At first there was a snicker or two, mostly swallowed ones. But it did not take very long; at age thirty-something I was “Walter Jost,” no longer “Wally Jost,” to mostly everyone.
As might be expected, or suspected, among the people I know, my family had both known me the longest as ‘Wally’ and was the hardest group of people to convert. My mother had a particularly difficult time … I frequently heard ‘Waltie’ come from between her lips when she was attempting to say my name. Eventually, however, even she used my preferred name … most of the time, at least.
According to https://www.behindthename.com/name/walter, it is a strong name, “From a Germanic name meaning ‘ruler of the army’.” That is how I came to feel about it … a strong name, not a formal name. According to the same website, the popularity of the name peaked in the late eighteen hundreds and then waned,
Now the most annoying thing that happens about this is when I’m in a large group. We’re milling around and one of the members looks at me and says, “Hi Walt. Thanks for coming.” ( Please note, “Wally” is not an option any more. )
I will, or might, say something polite, like, “Please … it’s ‘Walter.’ Nice to be here.”
And the response from the speaker, or perhaps another who’s witnessed the exchange, is, “Hey … it’s OK, but maybe you should be glad to be remembered at all.”
And, of course, that is correct. I am glad to be remembered … but I would still like to be remembered by my name, the one I strove so hard to own.
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