Friday, May 1, 2009

Why Would a Grown Man Call Himself Billy?

When I was a little kid, everyone called me Billy. My birth certificate says William, and I don't have a middle name. I kid that the hospital charged by the letter and my folks figured two names were enough.

By the time I hit junior high, I guess I thought I needed to grow up a bit. There's the urge to be older sooner. I even thought that turning ten made me a teenager, "ten" and "teen" are the same word root. So "Bill" it was for the rest of high school and a few years beyond.

The early 70s brought the writings of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. into my life. I devoured everything he wrote. He had a wonderfully macabre, dark sense of humor, a nice slightly sci-fi twist and was balls-out funny to boot.

It was Slaughterhouse-Five that turned me back into Billy. The lead character, a hapless, schlub of a guy, was Billy Pilgrim. I haven't regretted the name change.

“How come they call you Billy instead of William?”

“Business reasons,” said Billy. That was true. His father-in-law, who owned the Ilium School of Optometry, who had set Billy up in practice, was a genius in his field. He told Billy to encourage people to call him Billy—because it would stick in their memories. It would also make him seem slightly magical, since there weren’t any other grown Billys around. It also compelled people to think of him as a friend right away.


Sarah said...

Interesting decision you made there re: de-Billing yourself. Billy Pilgrim is a great character name - I'd forgotten it, long time since I read Slaughterhouse Five.

Claude said...

I am also a big fan of Vonnegut. As much as I liked Slaughter House Five, I have to say my favorite was Galapagos.

Ewa said...

Dear William,
Slaughter. House Five - was one of my favourite books one upon a time....

Susan aka Miss. R said...

I hadn't read your blog before Billy. The first entry at FG yes. So the first time I do, you write about Vonnegut. All I can say is 'Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.' Thanks.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

I tend to call people what they introduce themselves as, and it never dawned on me that an adult male shouldn't go by Billy. I'm not one of those people who meet a James and immediately call him Jim, you see. I think people should be called what they want to be called. (It's a bit of a hot button for me. Sorry!)

Kate Frank said...

'Billy' never seemed kiddish to me but it does make you seem friendly and approachable. Loved this entry!

James said...

I had a similar "problem". Growing up people used my initials - J.J.

As I got older and got into a professional setting, I began being called by my first name James.

When my wife and I met, I was James... so now her family calls me James, so does all the people that know me from work/business.

Then we go around my family/friends and they know me as J.J.

Confusing at times.

Weeping Sore said...

Never thought of him as a role model, but then again, Billy Pilgrim did know something about out-growing something and growing back into it. Better than Peter Pan at any rate.

Tom Robbins said: when people tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing.