Posted by: Richard Bergstrom | August 28, 2011

What Is In A Name?

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So, my name is Richard William Houlder Bergstrom Jr. It sure is a mouthful to say, and there’s a permanent memory of the length etched into three lines of the graduation plaque of my high school. Just like many people, I imagine, there are certain parts of your name that you like, that you don’t like, parts that get ignored and others that you just plain don’t understand.

For example, William. Nice, common name symbolizing strength and fortitude. Pretty much anyone can spell it. There are a lot of famous Williams in the history of the world from William the Conqueror to William Shatner. There’s even a Baldwin, a prince and to complete the game, an actor famous for playing Doctor Who. To me, however, William has always been an addendum, an afterthought, an acknowledgement of a mysterious grandfather who died before I was born, was a spy in World War II and passed away under suspicious circumstances to be buried under several different serial numbers.

The Bergstrom part is interesting. It reminds me I’m Norweigan, though people also think it’s Swedish. It means “mountain stream” and I was especially fond of that fact in my more hippie-ish days since it made me even more earthy and as a Gemini, I think water’s cool. Turns out there are a lot of Bergstroms out there, including a surgeon general and an Air Force Base though I’m pretty sure they aren’t related (neither to me, nor each other).

Huolder’s the confusing one. I went through about twenty years of my life thinking it was spelled Houlder. After all, who has a middle name of Holder? Surely it had to be something more exotic, more quirky, just downright plain unusual than Holder, right? Then I thought someone told me it was in fact a plain Holder, so thus I thought it was Holder for a decade. Then imagine my chagrin when I learned my true family name isn’t Bergstrom but is actually Houlder. Yep. Turns out Bergstrom is (or was?) a town in Norway (or Sweden?) and as the Houlders (Holders?) immigrated over to the great US of A, we took our town name as our last name. Guess that’s why there are more Bergstroms than Houlders since other families from our town took up that tradition.

Of course, I’m also a junior. That was kind of hard to grow up with, signfiying all the responsibility (but in hindsight, privilege) that a first born comes into this world with. Now, as a kid and probably like a lot of kids, I didn’t get along with my dad. Our idea of family time was to watch television together and any appeals for a bit of money or bit of attention had to wait until a commercial. There’s a legend in the family (which turned out to be somewhat untrue) that my father was late to my delivery because he was watching the John Belushi Star Trek skit on Saturday Night Live. Compounding the frustration was that I played a ton of sports and was a pretty thin member of a relatively unthin family, which made it even harder to see how I was “like” my father. Then there were the family gatherings with uncles and aunts where calls for “Richard” were met by my “ut oh, what did I do now?” shiver-of-fear-at-my-full-name-being-used-to-scold-me only to receive a “I meant your father” in response.

So, as a kid, I wanted to be “Ricky”. Everyone said I looked like Ricky Schroeder and Rick just sounded too short and boring and terse and tense for a little kid. Then when I went to my second new high school, I lived in the dorms and “Ricky” sounded too childish and led to too many “Oh Ricky you’re so fine” jibes which flashed me back to the days of building forts and fighting with tin-foil wrapped swords and putting colored inserts in my Converse shoes which were “so 80’s”.  So, I matured into a more adult, cool, collected “Rick”. I stayed as Rick for a long, very long time… through college, the move to Colorado, then to Oregon, the birth of my daughter and even past the breakup with my ex-fiancee. I moved back to Colorado since there were no jobs in Oregon even for someone of my supposed skills and intellect and I just couldn’t afford to be a hippie anymore. I started working more-than-fulltime, designing reports and running them at night and on the weekends. I’d be working night shifts and odd split shifts and though I still had the long hair and mountainman scruffy beard of a hippie, I became “Richard”. I could blame the Human Resources department for that, for setting up my email as richardbergstrom@here.there instead of rickbergstrom@here.there, but basically, people knew me by my email address more than by my name. “Who’s Rick? Oh, you mean Richard…” started causing more confusion than it was worth. I became “I go by Richard, but my friends call me Rick.” until I realized I was working so much that I had no friends outside of work and they all knew me as Richard anyway. Hardly on the scale of “My Name is Marguerite” by Maya Angelou, but there gets to be a point that what a person prefers gives way to necessity as one ages. Besides, it took too much damn effort to keep straight.

So these days, I go to visit my father in Oregon. We are both older now, of course, but he is much much older now. He has a PhD and a few Masters Degrees to provide proof on paper that he didn’t spend the years idly. He’s an educated man, about the world and about our family. He passed on to me the stories about how his father was a personal friend of Ronald Reagan’s when he was governor and that my grandfather took photos used in the Nazi war crime trials. I can’t find a shred of information on the internet about Will Bergstrom, but I believe him. He also told me of our heritage and our family name, similarly incomplete as the “telephone game” can get through the years. His memory is still very sharp, even after a few strokes which have left him partially paralyzed. We also have the same laugh and our pear-shaped bellies jiggle in the same way. He does cry more times in one day than he had in the thirty-some-odd previous years I had seen him and that does worry me. We both smoke cigarettes too. About two years ago, though he had been smoking since he was 15, he quit cold turkey for ten months because his doctor said it would lead to another stroke. He ended up having more strokes anyway so he started back up again. It’s just one of the small comforts he wants, and I can even say, has earned after working so hard all his life for ungrateful brats like myself. We both make a decent bit of money, more than a lot of people, and never enough. We both work hard, and we get selfish about our “relaxing time”. And now I too go by “Richard” and wonder if I will… if I should… if I would want to mature and age like he did. If I do, I hope I can still laugh like he can.

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