Scholarly Roadkill

Mitch’s Blog

What’s in a (Middle) Name

Friday, March 23, 2018

Like every scholar, even one who didn’t begin practicing until he hit retirement age, announcement of the online availability of the conference program is a trigger to click the button and find out when my paper is scheduled (8:15 am Thursday; no one will be there) and whether any of my commitments conflict (yep, my one committee meeting is 8-10 that same morning). Having received the expected bad news, I flipped to the committee page only to find that the Publications Committee, of which I am not surprisingly a member, had listed a Mitchell V. Allen II. I scoured the list twice to find the other Mitchell Allen, the one without the V. or II, neither of which had ever been attached to my name before. I’m a J kinda guy. When no other Mitch jumped out from the list, I had to accept that I had been donated several extraneous letters. That was me on the list. Should I embrace my newfound V and II or demand a retraction?

It adds up to a Roman 7, which is a definite plus.

On the other hand, my cultural background never Romanizes its names. Four generations of John Timothy Smith might live across the street as John, JT, Timmy, and Jack instead of John Timothy, Jr., III, and IV, but I can guarantee that family doesn’t celebrate Passover. I’m definitely not named for a paternal line of Mitchells going back to the old country. They would have had too much trouble with the “tch” in the shtetl.

Look what happened to George HW Bush’s son, fated to be forever known just as W. No wonder he turned out the way he did.

That leaves the V. Victor, Vernon, Vance? What could the overworked program assistant been thinking of when giving me a new middle name? Maybe, knowing my publishing background, he was tossing a subtle compliment by giving me a moniker filled with poets and artists: Vincent, Vergil, Vinci (the “da” can be silent, can’t it?). Even better, the name of lovers—Valentino—or of divinity—Vishnu. More likely, I turned down his advisor’s book proposal and the V. is Vlad the Impaler or even Voldemort, subtle revenge for the slight back in 2011.

Given my Pale of Settlement origins, maybe the V was actually a W, which would have been pronounced the same in Yiddish. Verner, Vagner, Vinston? Nah, an unlikely error.

If I were a woman, it would be much easier to accept the V stuck in the middle of my moniker. Lots of lovely V women names: Victoria, Violet, Vivian, Valerie, Virginia, Vera, and even my wife’s adopted Vida. It would be a lovely signature with a sinuous, feminine V in its center. But I was named in the 1950s and that kind of gender bending was still three decades in the future.

Having suffered through four decades of proofreading academic texts, I know that some people aren’t even given middle names, just initials. But if I was just a Mitchell V, it would be without any punctuation signifying it was short for something else.  I eliminated an unadorned V without the accompanying period.

So here I am, an extra V glued to my name and no way to access it. Even worse, whoever did this to me thought my father carried the same V burden. I was only the IInd V. I guess I’ll have to wait to solve the mystery when I go to the committee meeting in a couple of weeks at the conference…

Which is when it dawns on me that I can’t go to that meeting. My paper on the Iron Age in southwest Afghanistan is at the very same time!

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