Do you remember that old Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue?” If you were a girl named Donny, you’d never forget it.
For those of you who are blissfully ignorant of country music, the basic story line of “A Boy Named Sue” goes something like this: a boy’s father names him Sue, then leaves town. Sue learns to live with his girly name by pulverizing anyone who makes fun of it. As a result, he grows up tough and mean.
One day in a tavern in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Sue runs into his old man. He introduces himself to his long lost daddy by saying, “My name is Sue, how do you do? Now You’re gonna die!”
They fight, knock out a few teeth, spit some blood, crack ribs. Then Daddy tells Sue that he stuck him with that ridiculous name because he knew he wouldn’t be around to help him out. He gave him that sissy name to make him tough.
So tough, grownup Sue doesn’t kill his old man. (He knows it’d be hell in Folsom Prison, being the only boy there named Sue.) He lets his dad go and says, ” I come away with a different point of view.”
Still, Sue admits at the end of the song that if he ever has a son, he’s gonna name him anything but Sue.
Actually, there’s a lot more to this song than just comedy. “A Boy Named Sue” brings to light a fact that everyone with an unusual name realizes early on: the world is geared toward Mikes and Marys, Johns and Susans, Davids and Anns (and these days, Heathers and Jasons, Jennifers and Erics, Brandos and Hollys).
Moonbeams, Ludwigs, male Vivians and female Dwaynes just don’t fit neatly into the scheme of things.
I share with Sue the burden of an unusual name, but my dad didn’t name me Donny. My dear, sweet grandmother did the honors. And to her, it was an honor, since she named me after her son, my father, whom she wasn’t sure would ever return alive from the Korean Conflict. At least his name would live on, she reasoned, even if he didn’t.
But he did return, scarred only by a severe dislike for the Army’s still-raw fried chicken and chipped beef and gravy on bread (which he called an unflattering name).
When he got home, there were two Donnys in the family. I would gladly have given him his name back, especially in first grade when all the Elizabeths and Cindys laughed as the teacher called the roll and the girl named Donny raised her hand.
At our house, we faced a double naming dilemma when our twins were born. Like the boy named Sue, I knew I didn’t want my children to go through life with strange names.
I didn’t want them to have matching names either, like Mopsy and Flopsy or Fonsie and Fanny. They were individuals from day one. Their names should reflect their individuality, I reasoned.
So I named my son Gregory. My husband named our daughter Jennifer. We call them Greg and Jenny. So far, they haven’t tried to beat us up or sing like Johnny Cash, so I guess we did okay.
This column originally appeared on the editorial page of the Wednesday, November 1, 1989 Athens Daily News. No reuse without permission of the author.