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.