Tag Archives: names

Little Al, That’s Me Again

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Mom wanted to name me Clint, but she “made the mistake” (her words) of saying, “I guess we could name him Al the third,” and as the story goes, the look on Dad’s face made it clear that she would lose the naming battle. Albert Andrew Sturgeon, III, it was—and is.

When I was born, Dad was my age now, three months’ shy of his 50th birthday, but despite the age gap he was my picture of strength. He had been an impressive high school athlete in the 1930s, and when I came into the picture in the ’70s and ’80s he showed no evidence of slowing down. He was a combination of war veteran, butcher in a meatpacking plant, and heavy smoker (Camels, unfiltered) that created a stereotypical picture at the time of someone who is “tough.” They called him Big Al and me Little Al, and I was proud of that arrangement. I was a scrawny kid, but I had a strong dad.

At some point, as life tends to do, everything changed. The Big Al and Little Al irony jokes commenced when I had an inexplicable growth spurt in high school and ended up 6’3 to Dad’s 5’8, and then when I was in college his health began to fail. When I returned to my hometown after college, it became obvious that he was dying.

The picture above is beguiling. By that time Dad spent much of his time on the couch, trying to rest, nibbling on crackers, negotiating with Death. He does not seem pleased that Mom wanted a picture of the two of us in his weakened state. I look so much bigger than him, which is such a perplexing role reversal that I keep staring at the picture as if it might right itself if I stare long enough. But it never does.

Dad has been gone for over twenty-five years now, and it dawned on me yesterday on Father’s Day that yet another type of role reversal is underway. My two daughters are now grown women, and although I have always been proud of them, there is a new kind of proud this year. Erica recently completed the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Credential Program at California Lutheran University and now teaches elementary-aged children in the Los Angeles Unified School District who have extra challenges in life. And Hillary has accepted a position as Shelter Operations Coordinator at Casa Marianella in Austin, Texas, a place that “welcomes displaced immigrants and promotes self-sufficiency by providing shelter and support services.”

My physical health is good as far as I know, and unless something very strange occurs, I will at least always be taller than those two daughters of mine. But when I think of what each of them has chosen to do with their precious lives in this crazy world, I shrink next to their tremendous strength. I find myself recovering that long lost “Little Al” and look up in admiration to my daughters as they show me what real strength looks like.

Do you want to know what I got for Father’s Day yesterday? I’ll tell you: I got two amazing daughters.

Erica & Hillary

Names

blog pic names“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.” – Hafez

I threw out the ceremonial first pitch for a Lipscomb University baseball game last Friday, which was easily the most difficult and embarrassing thing I did all weekend. But I received far more sympathy for reading around three hundred names at the undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday afternoon. (For the baseball fans, the pitch was in the dirt, low and away, and the manager made the wise decision to pull me after a single pitch—no Tommy John surgery, but the trainer has me icing the old arm anyway.)

This was not my first time pronouncing names at graduation, having done so while at Pepperdine Law for three consecutive years sometime back.  My favorite memory from those inaugural years was when I announced Hillary Mace, and much to my surprise (and I’m sure the fury of the events team), she ignored our wonderful dean and president and jumped up to my podium to give me a hug instead of accepting her diploma first.  That kind of made my life.

But there are the haunting memories, also known as the attempts to pronounce the most difficult names given my cultural background.  I remember practicing with my friend, Mr. Dehbozorgi, and feeling confident and ready.  However, when it was showtime, I remember the sinking feeling when I looked at the next graduate in line and noticed Farshad’s excited face—and yet it wasn’t his turn!  Farshad’s encouraging facial expression was saying, “C’mon, big guy, you can do this!”  My facial expression was saying, “I am a deer, and I see headlights.”  We somehow survived the interminable showdown, although therapy must have helped me forget exactly how.

My first foray reading names at Lipscomb had some definite pronunciation challenges, but given my return to the American South (and that Lipscomb is a more regional university), the names were most definitely easier.  The best part was that I got to share the load with two new friends, Brian and Catherine (pictured above), so that each of us pronounced about three hundred names. Brian and Catherine are fantastic, and I was honored to be on their team.

That we have names is interesting all by itself, and the phenomenon of announcing names at formal recognition ceremonies even more so.  It is a powerful feeling to stand on stage under bright lights wearing bizarre attire and declare a name over a powerful microphone that signifies the end of years of rigorous academic study and unleash wild applause from family and friends.

What is it about hearing that name?

Maybe it is because more often than not it is the first thing we do to a human being—give it a name. We are given a miracle, and we feel compelled to identify it in some way, and we say, You are _______. There. That is who you are. With time we learn to say it ourselves: I am ______. It is our linguistic attempt to establish a foundational identity, this curious mix of sounds and syllables.

We are each somebody. Every single one of us.

If you ever doubt it for yourself, give me or Brian or Catherine a call. We are seasoned professionals who can declare your name and unleash the applause.

Reinvent Yourself

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I join those who say Facebook is at least worthwhile on your birthday. I liked every nice message last week, although it took forever to “like” each message, but as I worked through the list, the number of names I have collected over the years was striking.

#1: LITTLE AL: That made me smile. I was named after my dad who was named after his dad, so I was Little Al to my dad’s Big Al for many years until I outgrew him by eight inches, which led to…

#2: BIG AL: That was high school and college, partly due to my height, but partly because Al is a name that just feels right with Big in front of it, like John, Dave, Bird, Brother, Trouble, Sur, Government…

#3: COACH AL: My first job was coaching my high school alma mater, and when the superintendent introduced me to the student body, he simply couldn’t bring himself to refer to someone he knew since Little Al as Coach Sturgeon; henceforth, Coach Al.

#4: MR. STURGEON: I moved to a non-coaching job at a new school. Good job, but boring name.

#5: BROTHER AL: My next career was preaching, and we remained in the South, so you get it.

#6: DEAN STURGEON: And then there is now. This one is slowly catching on.

Which do I like best? All of them because each brings awesome memories of great people. Which do I prefer? I don’t, but if you have no reason to use one in particular, then Paul Simon’s song (and classic music video) sums up my advice: You Can Call Me Al.

What does this have to do with anything? Whatever you think about the scientific theory of human evolution, it is undeniable that we evolve as individual human beings, and our capacity to reinvent ourselves appears limitless. So are you happy with all of “you” right now? I suspect none of us are, so the question emerges: Which version of you comes next? You do get to choose.

Today, an elderly couple passed me on the 101 test driving a sparkling white Mercedes convertible with a handicap placard dangling from the rear view mirror in the breeze. That isn’t my personal style, but hey, Fred and Myrtle are making a choice!