018:336 Names

Today, the third Monday in February, is not the day you think it is.

You may think today is President’s Day, but you would be as wrong as if you had bet on a Mondale victory back in ’84.

According to the fine folks over at the United States Civil Code (Title 5, Part III, Subpart E, Chapter 61, Subchapter I, Section 6103 to be exact), today is “Washington’s Birthday.”

The fact that most people in this country will identify this day by its incorrect moniker is a thing that drives me batty. I know it’s a small thing to mount a soapbox for, but names matter.

For example, it changes the tenor of a news story if the participants of a protest march are called “demonstrators”, “paid activists”, or “a mob”.

As for me personally, the importance of my name has never been much of a soapbox for me to mount. For example, when I first starting working as a computer programmer, I had one co-worker who constantly referred to me as “Kevin”. Now I will freely admit that I look like a “David”, a “Walter”, or even a “Carl”, but I never pegged myself as a “Kevin”. I never figured out how she came to mix up my name, but that point is immaterial.

Whenever I would correct her, she would apologize and call me by my rightful moniker, but on our next meeting, she would relapse and call me “Kevin”. It came to a point, one year into my stay at this company, that I stopped correcting her and simply began responding to her as “Kevin”.

Sometimes you simply have to roll with it.

When I lived in Lima, Peru, I had a “Starbucks name”. This was a fake name that I gave the Peruvian baristas because my first name was simply too difficult for the folks of Lima to pronounce. So, instead of offering up my given name of “Brian” to be written on the cups, I identified myself as “Alejandro”, which was easier for them to hear, write, and pronounce.

Sometimes you simply have to roll with it.

However, there was one instance where a rose by any other name would not have smelled so sweet and I would not simply roll with it.

This is my story.

We’ll set our calendars back to the end of September in the year 1991. This was my first week at my new job at a radio station in St. George, Utah. One of my duties was to give a newscast in the afternoon. This was a simple affair where all I needed to do was give a quick introduction and then read six to eight stories of local interest ripped from our teletype machines.

The station’s general manager (and for proper respect for those no longer among the living, let’s just continue to identify this individual as “Mr. GM”) handed me the simple scripted introduction that I was to read which went as follows…

Good afternoon, it’s six past twelve and [insert temperature here] degrees in Utah’s Dixie. With the latest in local and state news, I’m Brian Aivirt.

When I mentioned that my last name was not “Aivirt”, but instead started with an “F”, Mr. GM gave me the explanation that he thought young folk, like myself, preferred to use stage names on the air. When he saw the license plate on my car, which read AIVIRT, he thought he had crafted a nifty pseudonym for me.

I told him I was quite happy with my given last name.

He countered that my surname had too many syllables and would take too much time to say.

Since there are only two syllables in my last name (the same number as in AIVIRT), there clearly there was some issue with my family name here and I wondered how far he would take this. While I was striving towards my dream of attaining a career in radio, I had never come close to the consideration of altering my last name. I was not about to start driving down that road with my first gig.

I said again that I was fine with my last name.

Mr. GM shrugged his shoulders and said I could keep my last name.

Have I mentioned yet in these ramblings that I was raised Jewish? Have I neglected to mention in these posts that my last name is quite ethnic sounding with the general tone of sounding Jewish?

I wish I could confirm my suspicions as to why Mr. GM was keen to modify my moniker, but all the evidence I have is circumstantial. Utah is, there is no dancing around it, a state with a high proportion of Mormons. I was in the rural southern part of the state where the less-than-positive attitudes towards the non-Mormon were more prominent. One day, later in my stay, Mr. GM actually introduced me to the owner of the radio station with, “This is Brian. He’s a member of the Hebrew faith.”

My suspicion was that Mr. GM did not want such a non-Mormon sounding name on the air. I later found out from the station’s program director, Nat, that I was not Mr. GM’s first choice to fill in for the mid-morning time slot. Mr. GM had wanted to purchase the syndicated program hosted by Rush Limbaugh but Nat convinced the owner that they should use a live person because it would be cheaper.

I can now put on my resume that I beat out Mr. Limbaugh on my first professional gig in broadcasting.

That’s my story.

P.S. I am glad I stuck by my guns and kept my last name. That small victory would help me when I confronted Mr. GM again. I honestly don’t know if I could have done what I did later if I had already caved in and became “Mr. Aivirt” in my mind to him. But, that, as you may have already deduced, is a story for another time.

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