Alright, you may not think that any caucasian male can possibly be disadvantaged or discriminated against, but I am here to tell you that I am. And so are a lot of other people who have to suffer other indignities that I don't. We are members of a true minority society; we don't use our first names.
I am a Junior. My father went by Les all of his life, but in order to avoid confusion, I was always known as Rod (or Roddy in the early years). I am also frequently called Rodney, but I prefer the diminuative. I did experiment one year (5th grade) and went by Les because it seemed so much nicer sounding than Rod. Of course that may have been pride in my father that made me think that. I was able to do it that one year because that was the only year I went to that particular school. The following year I went back to the same school where I had been in kindergarten, first, second grades, so I returned to the name the other kids were familiar with. But I digress.
When I got to be 16 or so, I began to be exposed to sundry legal documents, and with my first job, opened a bank account. I started signing my name L. Rodney Peterson. I even had it that way on my driver's license (and still do). Virtually every legal instrument I've signed for the last 40 years has no evidence of a first name on it; merely an anonymous first initial then middle name.
Over the years I learned to never, never, ever give people my first name, because then that's what they'll call me by, or they'll adjust their accounting to reflect that. It's quite amusing when people ask my information and they sometimes get quite perplexed when I refuse to tell them my first name.
In recent years, however, it's gone from a curiousity or source of amusement, to a matter of discrimination. I first noticed it several years ago when I was manually filling out a form for something or other. There was a huge space, possibly an acre or more, for applicant's first name. I managed to get an L in there, and then proceeded to the space for my middle name, which they had conveniently labelled Middle Initial and for which they had thoughtfully provided enough space for one sans-serif letter, as long as it wasn't a W or M. Even Q or G might have struggled for space. Ever the rebel, in my tiniest print I wrote Rodney in the space provided and went on to the rest of the form. Invariably, in those situations I become Rodney L. Peterson.
As the internet has proliferated, thoughtless site developers have electronically shortchanged us First Initial People (FIPs?) and left room for exactly one letter for our middle name in their online data centers. You can tell when you're done by the annoying beep that keeps you from completing your identity.
A year ago, as I was trying to electronically renew my amateur radio license, I ran into the same problem. Of course, since this was a government document, I felt that absolute accuracy should have been the goal, and I wrote a huffy e-mail to that effect to the FCC. Their equally snotty reply was that they weren't equipped to handle us FIPs. Not equipped? Do they want accurate data or not?
I was incensed. At the very least, does the name J. Edgar Hoover mean anything? Obviously, at some time there has been accommodation made in the government for FIPs. T. Allen McArtor, an FAA administrator a few years ago is another example, and do I have to mention F. Lee Bailey?
In the arts, I always mention F. Scott Fitzgerald, although not too soon after Bailey, because all those first Fs are oxymoronically anti-alliterative. And before I fail that counsel and mention Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, I ought cite the popular author and playwright W. Somerset Maugham.
T. Boone Pickens was quite the story back in the rapacious economy years of that actor president, and although, rich as Croesus, he wasn’t ever the richest man in the world—the same can’t be said about oilman J. Paul Getty. Then there is the contrast between hero and villain—J. Robert Oppenheimer was the father of the atomic bomb. G. Gordon Liddy was the bastard child of Watergate.
I don't know what to do about this. Since the vast majority of people use their first names, and the bulk of form developers seem to come from that same group, no one is going to think of us independently. I don't know whether to file a lawsuit or write my Congressman, E. Clay Shaw. Hmmmm… (clever at the time, but now out of date.) Actually, I’ve develoed a workaround which is technically accurate yet confounds the data collectors, and allows me to get the forms filled. I just type “L Rodney” (no period after the “L”) for the First Name and virtually all software accepts it. It might not process it correctly (that space often causes the rest of the name to be parsed into oblivion), but I have the satisfaction of beating their system.
So you thought you'd heard it all. Well there is one more pitiful downtrodden lot than you were aware of when you first got here, isn't there? Do you feel your day is complete?
Whine mode off.
Update: A stringent identification program called RealID passed the Congress a couple of years ago requiring all states to adopt its principles in their state licensing programs. I had to renew my Florida driver’s license recently and was worried I may have to succumb to the full monte as it appears on my Social Security card. Fortunately, all the groundwork I’ve laid over the years (passport, IRS 1099s, utilities, financial entities, as well as former driver’s licenses) paid off, and the SS information never came up. No first name on my license—just the initial. As icing on the cake, I was able to drop the “Jr.” which was formerly appended, inasmuch as “Sr.” died fifteen years ago.
Last updated: 02 December 2010