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“But don’t you know what it means?”
I lobbed a frown at my best friend and threaded another daisy into a fast-lengthening chain. A stitch tightened between my ribs.
Midsummer in the suburbs of Calgary, and a hot sun cooked the trampoline mat beneath our bellies. We would sprawl there during bluebird afternoons to chomp watermelon slices and debate the superior flavour of Ring Pop or, occasionally, to demystify a childhood intrigue.
“It means … you know … penis,” she said, whispering the final word.
A chickadee warbled in the overhanging tree. Oh, I thought. So that’s why everyone laughs. It happened often enough – at school, at the dentist, at Blockbuster – but I’d never understood why. People would snort or giggle or spew their coffee, and I would shift between my feet, red-faced and confused. Here, finally, was the answer: Our last name was a popular epithet for the male reproductive organ.
The elementary years had been, and continued to be, turbulent. The youngest of three children but the only one bearing the Dick family name, I was the target of frequent bullying, retreating to bathroom stalls, library cubicles and tire swings for solitude. I grew envious of peers with normal names. “Why can’t I be an Abrams or a Sharma or a McLean?” I despaired. “I’d make a great McLean!”
Then there was the question of what I would do for work when I grew up; the professions of teacher and veterinarian, I reasoned, were out. Anything with a prefix, really. Paging Dr. Dick? As if! And how could I ever wear that name on the back of a Team Canada jersey?
After a few spells of particularly brutal teasing, I considered a legal name change. Although I had the full support of my parents in becoming Morgan Spears or Morgan Aguilera or Morgan Whatever-it-was-that-week, for one reason or another, I always held off, clinging to the name for another year. It was a weird name, I knew, but it was also my dad’s name. And I did love my dad.
Amid the sneering and the heckling, I had also gained a quartet of good friends who liked me well enough to brave the storm of associating with a Dick. We picked crab apples in the park. We raced across monkey-bars. We choreographed dance routines to Spice Girls hits. They didn’t seem to care about my name, and so I cared a little less, too.
Junior high marked a significant turning point in my journey as a Dick. I discovered the famous Dicks: Andy and Philip K. I got better at introducing myself to people, adopting my mother’s strategy of spelling our name – “Dick. D-I-C-K. Dick”– as a way of skating over the awkward pause after it’s spoken. This trick, it should be noted, also helps distinguish us from the elusive D-Y-C-K Dycks. (Although the latter are supposedly more common, I’ve yet to meet one. Dycks, do get in touch!)
If my name had thus far been a trial to overcome, during high school it became a quirk to embrace. At my after-school job as a restaurant hostess, the other staff took to calling me Dicker as a term of affection; the manager would even scribble it on my pay stubs. Around that time, I also met and befriended a Lindsey Dick (no relation) at a CPR training course – the first Dick I’d ever met who wasn’t my mom or dad. We hugged. We laughed. We commiserated.
It was then I uncovered a simple truth: Dicks are great people. Intelligence, wit, resolve … we’ve got it all! Who could be more apt to empathize, to problem-solve, to persevere in the face of an unforgiving world, than a Dick? Eighteen years old, tough as nails and at last, victorious, I walked the stage at my Grade 12 graduation to cheerful choruses of “Yeah, Dicker!” and vowed never to apologize for my name again.
Since then, my name-related challenges have been mostly logistic in nature. E-mails I send often catch in spam filters. Occasionally, I’m barred from entering my name into online forms because the fields won’t accept coarse language. But nothing – nothing – compares with the pain of requesting a police background check. As a social services worker, I need several each year for employment purposes, and the process never gets any easier.
“So … what’s your name?” the officer asked me one recent occasion, a crease rooting between her brows.
I threw a weary glance at the 30-person line assembled behind me at the station. “J Morgan Dick. D-I-C-K. J, as in the letter. Dick as in … Dick. D-I-C-K.”
“What does the J stand for?”
“Nothing.” To add fuel to the fire, my legal first name also happens to be an initial. In a markedly feminist (if otherwise questionable) move, my mom had reasoned a simple J would look impressive on the nameplate of an office door or in the byline of a news article. “It’s just a letter.”
“But what does the letter stand for?”
“It’s just a J?”
“And the last name?”
“Dick. D-I-C-K.” I removed my driver’s licence from my wallet and slid it across the counter as evidence.
She squinted at the card. “So you’re really … J Dick?”
Is it even a name? I never used to think so. A first name that’s a letter and a last name that’s a swear word? Seriously? There are moments when I still envy the Abrams, the Sharmas and the McLeans of the world – nice names, normal names, names that don’t require an explanation whenever they’re spoken. But, I also know I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if I hadn’t grown up with the good name of Dick.
When I get married, I might even keep it.
I mean … I probably won’t. But you get my point.
J Morgan Dick lives in Calgary.