What's In a Name?

For some people, it means a lifetime of bad jokes.



Take a look at the byline for this column. Yes, my last name is Finger. F-I-N-G-E-R. Funny, isn't it? Hilarious, even. Okay, stop chuckling — or even laughing out loud.

Because let me tell you that after 50 years or so, I've pretty much lost my sense of humor about it.

As a child, I vaguely remember being aware that my name was unusual. Some of my friends had weird monickers, that's for sure. I can remember Bobby Halfacre (were his forebears small land owners?), Russ Spurlock (is that part of a saddle?), Raymond Bibb, and even David Kiss.

But nobody I knew was named after a body part. Look through the phone book and you'll see what I mean. In Memphis, you'll find almost 10 Feet — uh, I mean Footes. Half a dozen Hands. More than 20 Heads. Only three Leggs. One Back. But no Shoulders, Thighs, Elbows, Arms, or Torso. And besides, none of those sounds quite as goofy, for some reason, as Finger.

And I didn't realize just how funny my name was until I started school. The first day was always torture, when the teacher called the roll and got to "Finger, Michael" and the class burst out laughing. After a few days, the joke got a bit stale, and the snickering stopped, but each year was the same.

Then I entered junior high — the cruelest years in any child's life. At one class in the seventh grade, I found myself seated with only two friends my age and the rest eighth- and ninth-grade strangers. So of course the giggles and guffaws burst out when Miss Spain got to my name. And they laughed the next morning, and the next. Unlike my pals in elementary school, the junior-high kids never tired of mocking me.

Finally, I could take it no more. After class, I nervously crept up to Miss Spain's desk and said there had been a mistake. "Uh, you've been calling me 'Finger,' for some reason," I whined, "but my name is FISHER."

"Oh my goodness!" she responded. "How embarrassing that must have been for you! I am so sorry."

But I clearly hadn't thought how this might play out. The next morning, Miss Spain made a point of emphasizing my "correct" name, calling out, "Michael FISHER." When I muttered, "Here," one of my classmates — maybe trying to help, maybe trying to cause trouble — piped up: "Miss Spain? His name isn't Fisher — it's Finger."

The teacher dragged me out in the hall and asked what the heck was going on. Feverishly trying to think of a plausible story, I said, "Well, you see, it used to be Finger, but then my parents got a divorce and changed it to Fisher, but the divorce didn't, uh, last. So now it's Finger again." It seemed to make sense to me. But I can remember the long look Miss Spain gave me, a mix of pity and weariness, clearly suggesting, "Another year, another lunatic in my class." I slinked back to my seat, the laughter even louder this time.

Somehow I managed to get through the rest of my school years, enduring the taunts of my schoolmates. But "Fisher" came back to haunt me years later, when I married Sherri Weathers, whose family was pretty well-known in Germantown. The Germantown News, no doubt thinking that no self-respecting Weathers could possibly marry a Finger, ran a large article and photo about our wedding. And in the headline, photo caption, and story, they consistently referred to me as Michael Fisher.

I cease to be surprised anymore by the rudeness of strangers. When they hear my name, they laugh or snicker, or even ask, "How do you spell that?" Sometimes I say, "It begins with a PH." And when people ask me, "Did anyone make fun of your name in school?" if I'm in a good mood, I reply, "No, what do you mean?" And if I'm cranky, I say, "Only the jackasses." That usually shuts them up.

I occasionally wonder how my name has affected my life. Since so many things — job interviews, for example — are based on instant impressions, how many employers have been turned off by such a goofy name? In the past, I even considered submitting resumes under a pseudonym, but then realized that might be tough to explain on the off chance that I actually got hired.

Certain professions, I knew, were simply out of reach. What self-respecting patient would submit to an examination by a Dr. Finger? And few clients, I knew, would want to be represented in court by an attorney named Finger, if the jury snickered every time the judge called my name.

I should have changed it — Fisher seems the only option, apparently — years ago, but it's too late now. I'd have to tell everyone, "My name is Fisher, but for 30 years I've written articles using the name Finger." Hmmm — I'm not sure they'd buy that. So I just put up with it.

In fact, in my lifetime, my unusual name has come in handy only once. Years ago, I interviewed famed historian Shelby Foote. When I got him on the phone, I said, "Mr. Foote, this is Mr. Finger." If I thought that would bring forth a chuckle, I was wrong. Utter silence on the other end of the line. I guess he was tired of people making fun of his name too.

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