What’s in a name? My name is legion.

First Baptist Church, Scottsbluff, NE - Harold Wagoner, Architect

First Baptist Church, Scottsbluff, NE – Harold Wagoner, Architect

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many” Mark 5:9 (NRSV).

I once asked my dad why my folks named me Harold and my brother Richard. I didn’t know anyone else in our extended family who had either name. My middle name is Archie, after my paternal grandfather, Archie James Knight (one of my father’s sisters always called me Harold Archie). I wouldn’t mind going by Archie—for a brief time in college my name was “Arch,” which is the name my grandmother used for my grandfather. One of my college friends still uses that name for me, and, I must admit, I like it.

My dad told me they gave us our names because they wanted us to have masculine names not from the family. My dad’s name was Glenn, also not a family name. I’m not  sure why they didn’t want us to have family names. Perhaps because in my mother’s family a few men’s names were repeated over and over so keeping them all straight was difficult: Edward, Eugene, LeRoy, Arthur, Andrew—all perfectly fine names. Harold is a no-nonsense Anglo-Saxon name, a name of kings, one saint (St. Harold, child martyr) and British Prime Ministers (Harold MacMillan).

But the fact is, my names are not common, and I like that. The first Harold I ever met was Harold Wagoner, architect from Philadelphia who

Harold Knight 1

Harold Knight 1

designed the new building for the Baptist church in Scottsbluff, NE, of which my father was pastor. I was in junior high school when the building was built. Harold Wagoner and his wife came to visit before he designed the building. I remember them clearly. The building, by the way, is a stunning anomaly for a small city in Western Nebraska.

When Harold Wagoner showed up in town, my ego got a boost –from which it has obviously never recovered.

The next Harold I knew was a high school friend, Harold Schneider, Omaha Central High School, ’63 (yes, 50 years this spring). He was funny and au courant as I could not hope to be. He had a humor column in the school newspaper of which I was privately jealous (page two). I wanted to be funny, and I had not one bone of funny in my body.

I’ve known a few Harolds in my life. I’ve never known another Archie except my grandfather.

So what’s in a name, anyway? When you get to be my age, you think about things such as, “Will anyone remember my name for more than a week after I die?” Does it matter? Well, no, of course not. But it is an interesting idea to ponder, especially if one has no children. I know the first names of all of my grandparents. Lizzy and Eddie, Nina and Arch.  I don’t know the first names of any of my great-grandparents without looking them up. I can name my siblings, all of my cousins (even the ones who are not now—and perhaps never were—part of my life), all of my nieces and my nephew, and all of their children. I assume at least most of those folks know my name.

Harold Knight 2

Harold Knight 2

I’m sure a few people will remember my name for a while.

But how much of my story, the narrative of my life will anyone remember? I have been reading articles about the process of writing memoirs, personal histories. That’s because I began to see what I’m doing here as writing my memoir. In little pieces. Without organization. As memories come to me at 4 AM. It turns out, I am not alone in my thinking about my memoir. Apparently, we all do it pretty much constantly. We exchange stories and absorb each others’ stories in to our own, and our

. . . personal narratives are also informed by the stories we know about others, and this may be especially true for family stories. . . [We] are immersed in families, and families engage in reminiscing on a surprisingly frequent basis; by some estimates the past emerges as a topic of conversation about a dozen times an hour, and includes multiple stories about family (1).

Harold Knight 5

Harold Knight 5

I’ve been fixated on my name the last couple of days. But I think that’s a small part of—perhaps the beginning of—my thinking about how to tell my story, to myself if not to anyone else. I am taken by the understanding that

. . . autobiographical memories go beyond action chronologies to include evaluations, autobiographical reasoning, explanations, motivations,

Harold Knight 3

Harold Knight 3

and intentions. Autobiographical memories are about selves interacting with others . . . . Narrating our personal past connects us to our selves, our families, our

communities, and our cultures (2).

So my question today? how many Harold Knights are there? And how do our “evaluations, autobiographical reasoning, explanations, motivations, and intentions” connect us to our cultures—and to culture?

Harold Knight 4

Harold Knight 4

(1) and (2) Widaad Zaman, et al. “The Making of Autobiographical Memory: Intersections Of Culture, Narratives And Identity.” International Journal of Psychology 46.5 (2011): 321-345.

Harold Knight 1

Harold Knight 2

Harold Knight 3

Harold Knight 4

Harold Knight 5

Harold Knight 6

By Harold Knight 6

By Harold Knight 6

3 Responses to What’s in a name? My name is legion.

  1. Harold Schneider says:

    Dear Harold, I did a Google search on myself today — and how absolutely wonderful it was to find your sweet, wise, and amusing post about our sanctified name. Below is a link to a brief biography of me–I’m a presenter at a creative writing conference this summer where I teach: American River College, Sacramento (and have for 25 years). I still keep in touch with family in Omaha, plus some Central High friends: Paula Ziegman, Bob Slutzky, Gary Johnson, and Harry Friedman. Here’s a link:

    Like you, I’ll be protecting our special name to the end. I was always a bit nervous about it until one day, working at a chiropractor’s office as an aid in the 1970’s, the very lovely and talented British actress Sarah Miles happened to say to me; “I hope you are proud of your name. It belonged to one of the greatest kings in English history!” “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” I answered.

    Fond memories,

    The Other Harold

  2. Harold Schneider says:

    Oh, good. Best way to connect privately, my school email: schneih@arc.losrios.edu

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