A Rose is a Rose
No matter what the cable guy says
By Bill Fields
In the early stages of my seventh decade of being called something, I know I am not “will.i.am.” And the singer William James Adams Jr. need not fear that I will encroach on his lower-case and punctuated stage moniker.
Beyond that, though, all bets are off as I deal with an identity crisis.
My name game was simple for a long time. As with many folks, there were family reasons my birth certificate says what it says. William was the first name of my father and of the man who, with his wife, adopted him. Henderson, my mother’s maiden name, was chosen for the middle of mine. Both sides had a stake in how I would turn out.
From as early as I can remember, people called me Bill, never the two-syllable variant of the nickname. This was obviously a choice, for whatever reason, by my parents. As a child, I had no reason to argue with them. Neither Billy the Kid nor Billy Graham had something I needed.
Once I started school, I began to see how the world’s male Williams — or at least those in my classroom — were divided into Bills and Billys. The Duncan boy was a Billy. The Perham boy, like me, was a Bill. Folks seemed as likely to switch up their nicknames as to mistake the Blue Knights for the Red Devils. I was Bill on my lesson papers and my report cards. I also was Bill on my Little League team, although if someone had labeled me Willie, same as one of my baseball heroes, Willie Mays, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.
This “rule” followed me to the barbershop, where I never heard anyone voice the first name of my favorite haircutter, Billie Joyce Hill, with fewer than two syllables. The same was true for a longtime teacher in Southern Pines, Billie Bowen, although in the hallways she received an alliterative addition, “Bat Cave” Billie Bowen, because of her roots in that tiny western North Carolina community.
I was a plain, boring Bill until encountering golf professionals at Mid Pines for whom I worked as a teen golf cart attendant. I was Billy to them just as sure as there were longleaf pines along the fairways.
As I got older, outside of passports, bank statements and driver licenses that utilized my legal name, I was Bill — to friends and family, in bylines and, most of the time, to co-workers. The difference between the nickname’s versions was as different as Billy Crystal and Bill Kristol.
The last couple of years, one of my freelance assignments finds me on the road a dozen times a year working long days with a great bunch of people, some of whom like to call me Billy. Although I still don’t see myself as a Billy, I answer to it and have come to see it as the term of endearment that it is. I am the same person, after all, with or without a “y.”
I wish a phone agent had been as understanding a year ago when I was attempting to close a cable television account for the service in my mother’s room in an assisted living facility.
“This is William Fields,” I said, identifying the account and explaining why I had called.”
The voice on the other end of the line was helpful at first, collecting salient information to allow him to retrieve the account from the virtual vault of cable TV land. Just when I thought we were close to finishing the conversation, a snag appeared.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
“William Fields,” I answered.
“This account was opened by Bill Fields.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Bill is short for William. It’s a nickname. It’s my name. That was me — it is me.”
“But the account was opened with a different name. I can’t do this over the phone. You’re going to have to go to an office.”
After a couple of more tries weren’t able to inject any common sense into the conversation, I gave up and hung up.
As the steam dissipated, Bill v. Billy seemed way down the list of the world’s woes. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.