Recently I was in Oklahoma for an evening, in a rolling gentle woods on the east side of the state, and I got to talking to a man who told me his name at birth was Inadvertently. Apparently the doctor attending his birth asked his mother about her pregnancy, and she used the word inadvertently, which the doctor took to be the name the parents had chosen for their baby, “and so,” said my interlocutor, “the doctor wrote it down all Legal and Official, and there I was, saddled quintisyllabically.
“I didn’t ever go by that name,” he continued. “My folks called me Ad, and in school I was Ad, and ever since I have been Ad, but lately I am thinking of going back to my original handle, on general principle. For one thing my mom and dad are no longer with us and I wish to honor their choice, or rather my mom’s choice. My dad was not a present dad, you might say. I never actually did know his real name. My mom was in the habit of referring to him as Absent rather than whatever name she had known him by. Most people called him John, although he was also variously known as Solomon and Edward, or Ned, and there must be a fascinating story in this multinomenclaturality I do not yet know.
“This whole question of original and subsequent names has always fascinated me,” he continued, “partly because people so easily make fun of names that are unusual or uncomfortable, but the Cherokee people here, for example, they have it right when they say that names have a lot more power and influence than we admit. I have studied the word inadvertently quite closely in recent years and am beginning to think I should go back to it. The best definition that I have found of it is unwittingly, which seems to describe a great deal of life and the way we live it. The definitions of inadvertently that have darker intimations are things like inattentive or careless or reckless, but I feel like I try to be the most attentive of men, even as I acknowledge that whatever I am confident about is probably wrong. So unwittingly, if you look at it from the right angle, is pretty fair and accurate; we don’t have a whole lot of witting, if you know what I mean. So if I am trying to be attentive but unwitting, as it were, which is to say attentive but nonjudgmental, or attentive and open-minded, why, then, maybe Inadvertently is the man I should be, after all these years. Plus imagine the entertainment value of filling out forms and such. Imagine your driver’s license. Or running for president: vote for Inadvertently! There’s the greatest political slogan of all time, you know what I mean? And probably the most accurate, too.”
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author, most recently, of a novella, Cat’s Foot.