Twenty-two years and some number between one and 365 days before this article was published, I, William Pinke, bungee-jumped out my mother’s womb and into the world, a mindless, hairless, obese blank slate. I was given only four things that day: my name, my brain, my body, and a blanket. Since then, I have carried each through every stage of my development, but of the four only my name has remained unchanged.
I wasn’t literally mindless, but it’s safe to say my brain is more mature than it was then. Every part of my body that has skin is now capable of growing hair, other than my forehead, my palms, the bottoms of my feet, and the tip of my penis. I grew into my baby fat, and I assure you my body is awesome. My blanket eventually tattered, and I finally had to stop carrying him with me everywhere I went when I left for college. And while Blankie did help me through some tough times, I have a hard time believing he played a formative role in my character development.
My name very well may have.
Have you ever noticed how peoples’ personalities often seem to match their names? When was the last time you met an Egbert who was in a biker gang? Or walked in on your uncle Alfonso having sex with fewer than two girls at once? The point is, just as a lawn mower mows lawns, a nail clipper clips nails, and a nipple clamp clamps nipples, a surprising number of people are exactly who their label says they are.
So what is a William Pinke?
Unlike distinctive first names like Egbert and Alfonso, I don’t imagine William has much bearing on the way people initially perceive me. In a survey conducted by someone—or probably a group of people—on the most popular American names from the years 1911 to 2011, William was the only male name that remained in the top twenty every single year. In fact, over the entire century it dropped just one spot, from second most common in 1911 to third most common in 2011. William is so prevalent you can’t attach any one stereotype to it. A William could be anyone: a playwright, a president, a prince, a fresh prince, a Priceline negotiator who is also Captain Kirk, an eccentric candy manufacturer, an imprisoned whale, or even a Miley Cyrus’ dad.
I, personally, have been surrounded by Williams my entire life. There were four Williams in my kindergarten class of thirty. Of those thirty, half were males. I’m no math major, but I know that means over a quarter of all possible candidates for the name William possessed it. Friends and teachers differentiated us orally by the first letter of our last names, but behaviorally, no qualifiers were necessary. We were as different as the four sons in a Passover Seder.
Will M. was the wicked son. He asked questions like “What do you mean you don’t hit your mom?” and “Are you going to eat this pile of dirt?” and “How does that dirt taste?” and “Can you say ‘I love dirt’ or is your mouth too full from all the dirt you’re eating?”
Will G. was the son who did not know how to ask, because he had butlers to ask for him. If he could have, he would have asked questions like “What do you mean you’ve never played polo on a private jet?” and “Can you believe Mother forgot to pack caviar in my lunchbox today?” and “If I give you this 100 dollar bill can I drink your juicebox?” and “If I give you this 100 dollar bill can I not eat dirt today?”
Will K. was the simple son. He asked questions like “What do you mean they don’t make light up Velcro shoes for adults?” and “Why were the redcoats called the redcoats?” and “Why does this glue taste so good?” and “Ok! I’ll eat the dirt. But can’t I at least season it with some glue?”
Will P. was the wise son, not because he’s the one writing this (although that definitely factored into the decision) but because he asked questions like “Hey Will M. want to be my best friend?” and was the only kid in the school who never got bullied.
From the beginning that P has set me apart. Pinke is not any old P. If I had grown up as William Peters or Parker or Pearce, I imagine it would not have been much different from growing up a John Smith. My label would have been a constant, forgettable reminder of the banal, mediocre life I would no doubt lead. The jury is still out on whether my Pinke life will end up being anything more than mediocre, but if it doesn’t, at least I won’t be able to blame my name.
Believe it or not, my parents had a precedent when they chose to combine William with Pinke. There was another William Pinke who lived in England from the years 1599-1629. If my hypothesis is correct, it would stand to reason that my life would mirror that of my predecessor. That William Pinke, a renowned Puritan scholar and preacher, was far from mediocre. His most popular treatise was called The Tryall of a Christians Syncere Love unto Christ. He lived by the slogan, “The profession of Christ is the most serious business in the world” and considered people who did not constantly have Christ in their souls and only came to Church out of habit “no better than Turks or Jews.”
This William Pinke is one of those Jews, and not even an observant one. He was Bar-Mitzvahed but dropped out of temple the day after the ceremony, never to return. When he was eleven he got a boner during a very long service on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and the one time of the year when Jews are supposed to atone for their sins. Then he tucked it up under his belt, shuffled out of the service to try a trick he’d recently learned to get rid of boners in the synagogue bathroom, and didn’t stop to pick up his Yarmulke, which had fallen off his head, until he was finished. He assumes Christ was a nice, charismatic, mortal person who did exist, but definitely doesn’t love him. Christ, he’s never even met the guy.
This vast discrepancy between the William Pinkes would seem to put my hypothesis to shit, but there is one important societal factor that can account for the difference. In the early 17th century, when the original William Pinke was around, the word pinke, “e” included, was the name of a different color, derived from unripe buckthorn berries—what is today known as “stil de grain yellow.” The name pinke, for this shade of yellow, went extinct shortly after my predecessor’s death, and pink, as we commonly know it today, emerged at the end of the 17th century. I don’t know of any modern day people with Stildegrainyellow for a last name, but if there is a William Stildegrainyellow out there, I can only assume he is a devout Christian.
It makes sense to me that different colors would lead to drastically different people. I’ve known Whites and Browns and even Greens but none of those colors have quite the same edge as pink. For the duration of this William Pinke’s life, that edge has been primarily feminine. After all, pink is the color of breast cancer awareness, and of the balloons you get when you have a baby girl, and a euphemism for vagina.
I’m sure my two sisters have had completely different experiences with the name Pinke than I have. Guys probably thought it looked cute on them. Their girlfriends were probably jealous. The first memory I have of being conscious of the literal definition of my last name is when I was around five and a hot family friend a few years older than me—eight I think, with a great ass—said she was going to marry me so she could take my name. It was a promising start, but when other males my age began associating it with the literal definition soon after, things took an embarrassing turn.
Growing up with older sisters, I already had enough factors undermining my sense of masculinity on a daily basis. On multiple occasions I was forced to perform in basement fashion shows to Spice Girls songs along with their other Barbie dolls. One time, a tailor came to our house to size my sister Caroline for her ballet recital costumes, but she wasn’t home and I had to try on an assortment of tutus because we were roughly the same size. “It’s fine!” I heard my mother tell the tailor. “He’s practically a baby. In ten years he won’t remember it ever happened.” Once, in the middle of a large family function, my cousin Rachel and oldest sister Katy kidnapped and put makeup on me, then reintroduced me to the crowd as Willamina. Nobody reprimanded them. It’s an absolute miracle I didn’t end up a transvestite (although we can’t rule out the possibility that I still might).
The silent “e” is the last, and perhaps most important factor that has made Pinke so visible, and audible, in my life. Pink-ee is probably the most common mispronunciation and I’d imagine the negatives are obvious. Pinky is the stupid half of his cartoon mouse duo, the most expendable finger, and is difficult to use without sounding patronizing. I’m more often assumed French—Pink-ay—than Jewish, as long as the name’s reader never sees my nose or chest. Sometimes I get a pathetic “Pink-uh”, when people are really lost.
Aside from the feminine associations and pronunciation tribulations, I must admit Pinke has some redeeming qualities. It gets irritating having to correct so often, but it is a great way to filter out telemarketers. More substantially, I think a lot of men would be well served to have femininity ingrained in their identity somehow. Being symbolically linked to femininity every time someone spoke my name, correctly or not, ultimately may have made me more secure in my masculinity. Nobody is going to be scared of a guy named Pinke based on his name alone. I’d like to believe it makes me seem, and has actually led me to be, less threatening, and as a result, more approachable. It is also possible the name Pinke is partially responsible for my developing a sense of humor, in that being made fun of made me capable of making fun of myself.
It even may have stoked my affinity for wordplay, as Pinke has always been a wellspring of nicknames and puns. My father is an ophthalmologist, often credited by my friends for having discovered pinkeye. Pinke led me to a successful career in high school politics, highlighted by the classic “Think Pinke” and an army of giant pink pac-men I scattered throughout the school eating other candidates’ campaign posters. I have been alternatively called at different stages of my life Will Purple, Will Stink, Still Punk, Lil’ Finger, Two in the Pink, Pinkerton, and Pinkepanther, just to name a few. I look forward to the day I become a porn star, as I’m sure I’ll have plenty of monikers to choose from.
Sometimes I wonder what I’d be like if my father’s father had not shortened his last name to Pinke from Pinkowitz to avoid workplace anti-Semitism. Would a young William Pinkowitz have felt too Jewish to leave his genetic code sprinkled across the bathroom tiles of his synagogue?
And what if I’d been given my mother’s last name, Meister (master, in German). Would Master, William have felt too superior to try on his sister’s tutus and stayed out of touch with his feminine side?
And finally, what if I’d combined my parents’ last names and been Pinkemeister? Would my friends have called me the Vag Master? Do you think I could get my friends to start calling me the Vag Master now even though Pinkemeister isn’t my name?
A wise William once asked, “Would I, by any other name, smell as sweet?” He thinks not. Yes, “William Pinke” and I have gone through some rough patches over the years, but after investigating my name so closely, I can now comfortably conclude that it has played a prominent, unique, and altogether positive role in shaping the individual I am today. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be a transvestite, a priest, a porn star, a playwright, a president, a prince, a fresh prince, a Priceline negotiator who is also Captain Kirk, an eccentric candy manufacturer, an imprisoned whale, or even a Miley Cyrus’ dad, but I can guarantee you nobody else will ever be a me.