I would love to have been a fly on the wall as my parents deliberated over the choice of my given name. As far as I know it wasn’t derived from some cherished family namesake, famous war hero, or celebrity — it was just a name.
In her defense, Mom offered that it was dad who wanted it to start with the letter “E” with respect to his name — Edward. I suppose Eddie Jr would have been too much to ask for, so instead they christened me with the not-so-cool name of Eugene.
Over the years there have been numerous songs released lionizing male names like, “Eli’s Coming,” “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” and “Big Bad John”. And then we have ”Eugene” – the 1981 satire by Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band that only served to accent the social ineptness of some schlep named Eugene.
The name wasn’t always unpopular. It was actually listed as one of the top 50 names given between 1880 and the mid 1940s. Its peak year of popularity was 1927, when 9,744 boys in the US were named Eugene – almost 400,000 to date.
Unfortunately, over the last five decades the bearer of the name has often been typecast as being a nerd or wimp. I even knew of a family that dubbed their goldfish Eugene because the other fish in the aquarium bullied it almost constantly. With respect to myself, while I was no star athlete, I don’t believe anyone who knows me would label me a wimp or nerd.
But the name does carry a certain air of dorkiness. Be honest now, if a woman was asked to choose a blind date from off a list of names, would she choose a Brad, Adam, Brett or go with a Eugene? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Eugenes don’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sports either. You won’t see them being sought after for a sandlot baseball game unless they have already proven themselves, or there is absolutely no one else available. No, Eugenes get picked for things like spelling bees — which in my case would lead to a tremendous disappointment.
On the bright side, Eugenes really have no high expectations to live up to. It’s been said that “Expectations are just premeditated resentments,” so without them nearly anything Ole Eug accomplishes counts as a surprising plus. That must explain why it doesn’t take much to make me happy.
Over the years I’ve been called various deviations of the name like Gene, Eug, Mygene, Geno, and Mean Gene. The neighbor kid called me Bluegene, not because he was making fun of me, the dipstick actually thought that was how it was pronounced. I prefer the Eu-GENE pronunciation as opposed to EUG-ene.
But the tag that really got under my skin was when my cousin’s grandfather started calling me Genie. I cringed at the thought of seeing him because I knew what was coming, “How ya doin Genie! ” I wasn’t sure if he was calling me a girl or if he thought I came out of a magic lamp.
As an adult, when people began calling me Gene it brought back memories of those “Genie days” so I corrected them, over and over. The time and energy of repeated corrections had taken its toll and I finally lost the battle of my own name. I have now introduced myself as Gene for longer than I can remember.
I’ve come to not only accept my name, I’ve begun to like it to a certain degree.
I do like when people call me Eugene or Eug. It’s not such a bad name especially when considering the hilarious names they’re giving kids today. Like the mother who supposedly spells her child’s name “Le-a,” but insists it be pronounced “LeDASHa” apparently the “—” is not silent.
As for me, it could have been much worse. In their search for a name starting with the letter “E” Mom and Dad could have stuck me with Ebenezer or Englebert. So its true, there is a silver lining to just about everything. Although there remains a part of me that still thinks Zeke or Jake would have been way more macho.