Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Public Anonymity

Trey Smith

A lot of people are surprised to learn -- when they learn it all -- that my given name is not Trey. That name does not appear on my birth certificate. If you came to the town I live in, grabbed a local phone phone and looked up the name, "Trey" Smith, you won't find any. I AM listed in the local phone book, but under the first name I was christened with. It has been this way in almost every city or town I have lived in during my adult life and, at times, has caused a bit of confusion for people I am associated with.

Trey is my nickname. It is a nickname sometimes given to the third male who shares a first or, in my case, a first and middle name with two relatives before me. I share the same first and middle names with my father and my paternal grandfather. And though I have been very candid and frank in this medium, I will not be sharing with you those two given names.

For the sake of example, let's pretend those given names are "Roscoe Tanner". My grandfather was "Roscoe Tanner" Smith, Sr. My father is "Roscoe Tanner" Smith, Jr. and that would make me "Roscoe Tanner" Smith III. Understandably, my father was called Junior for a good deal of his life. What surprises people who know is that I was not called Trey growing up. I went by my given name. I didn't become Trey until the late 1980s.

When Della and I were dating, she knew me as "Roscoe." In fact, when we first moved in together, that was the name she called me...until one day, to her utter shock, I had been transformed into Trey. It took her more than one year to get the hang of my new moniker -- as it did the rest of my family -- but today even my father and brother call me Trey without thinking about it.

So, how did I go from "Roscoe" to Trey overnight?

Trey was a nickname infrequently used by my paternal grandfather throughout my youth. (He also used to refer to me as Rafer a lot.) When I started a new job as a social worker in a small Missouri town, I was asked by the lead secretary on my first day if I went by "Roscoe" or some other name. Though I had not planned to become Trey, that is the name I blurted out. Everybody calls me Trey, I told her. And from that singular moment forward, almost everyone I have come in contact with since has just assumed that Trey is my given name!

The funny thing about this story is that I forgot to tell my live-in girlfriend (now my wife), Della. So, a few days AFTER I became Trey, she called the office where I worked. "I'd like to speak to Roscoe, please." The junior secretary who fielded the call told Della that no one who worked there was named Roscoe. Perplexed, Della described my physical appearance. "Oh," the secretary said, "you mean Trey!" Confused, Della said she would like to speak to this "Trey" fellow.

My office phone buzzed and I answered, "Trey Smith. How can I help you?" There was a long pregnant pause. "T-r-e-y, this is your girlfriend, Della. Is there something you need to tell me?" It was then that I realized I hadn't shared this development with her. It's something we still laugh about to this day.

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