Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
A recent acquaintance asked me what I preferred to be called: Bill or Billy? It is a reasonable question, since names are important and preference can be significant.
My younger brother’s name is James, but usually he answers to Jim. In fact, the only time James was invoked was when the middle name was also added to give weight to what was coming next. I am not sure why parental reprimands require full names; in my case not only was my middle name added, but my father’s middle name as well.
At age 15 when I applied for my social security number, the kind folks at that office did not question my use of Bill. In retrospect, it would have saved me time later if they had challenged me. When I joined the Navy, however, at age 17, they did not accept Bill; it was Billy on the birth certificate and that was final. I am still not sure why it was an issue, since all I can ever remember being called while in the Navy was Upton anyway.
Back to my acquaintance: I felt somehow obligated to tell him about the traumatic event that altered my preference. It was in the second grade when I happily used the name Billy. It was easy to accept, given the notoriety among my peer group of the legendary Billy the Kid.
I doubt most second-graders were familiar with all of the exploits of the possible sociopath William Bonnie, or it may not have been as positive a reference.
Then one day a new girl was introduced to the class: her name was Billie. I endured it for the rest of the day and then went home and demanded a name change, I was not going to be stuck with a girl’s name. That would have been the social equivalent of riding a girl’s bike to school; any self respecting second-grade boy would rather walk.
My mom assured me that it was a matter of spelling; girls names ended with “ie” and boys with a “y.” While I was able to verify this the next day at school, it apparently left a less-than-positive impression.
Throughout much of my life, well meaning people have corrected me when I have offered Billy as my name with “then your name is William?” I know I should not complain. A man in the Bible was named “pain” (Jabez), while I understand that label is often attached to teens, this name was given to him at birth.
Jabez did not let his name negatively define him; his brief history recorded in the book of First Chronicles says he was more honorable than his brothers and when he asked God for a special blessing, God granted his request.
I read a study some years ago that postulated certain first names were more successful in life and business than others. Summarizing the first four verses of Proverbs, three basically says following the teaching and commands of God will have a great many benefits including, Proverbs 3:4 NIV — “Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
While there may be room for preferences about a name, it is not as important perhaps as a good name. I don’t expect you to take my word for it, although there is a fellow named Billy who has been giving good spiritual advice for decades. No, I will point you back to a man once considered the wisest man in the world. Let me quote him, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Proverbs 22:1 NIV
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.