This is what way-out West Virginia looks like. Squint your eyes and it’s like an ocean.

By JOSEPH “Billy” CORDUROY

So, about the name. It’s a ‘pen’ name, although it’s kind of close to my real one. I am writing with a pen name because my neighbors (well, a good part of some of them) are crazy. We don’t see eye-to-eye, which leads us sometimes to go nose-to-nose. I mean that physically, too. Yes, it can get political, but what doesn’t get political these days? But it’s other stuff, too. Real personal stuff. More on that later. Maybe.

So, ‘Corduroy’ is NOT my last name. That’s the ‘pen’ name part. If I were to use my real name, I might not be able to talk about all the things I feel a need to be talking about. If not right now, later. But the thing is this. West Virginia is not really a state. It’s a bunch of villages strung all together. And it’s amazing how something that happens in one of these villages or towns or cities gets known in another one over on the other side of your mountain — or many mountains away — very quickly.

I doubt the neighbors I have tangled with or the ones I have no urge to tangle with might find my journal on the Internet, if I was to use my real name. But you never know. (Plus, a few of them are armed to the teeth and very grumpy people.) I just don’t wish the hassle if I get a little brave and talk about everything and not just the easier things. And maybe them, too.

I have wanted to be able to be a ‘writer’ for forever, free to write my mind for a long time. I tried first publishing some op-eds in the local newspapers and community rags. (I learned from one newspaper editor that ‘op-ed’ means ‘opposite editorial,’ meaning the comments of us average nobodies went on the page that faced the high-and-mighty editorial writings of the newspaper).

But my early tries to publish op-eds in some local papers where I’ve lived (and even one shopper’s rag) did not go well, especially if I said something the town fathers did not like, which I did. Actually, the town mothers were just as bad, if not even more so. I might call them the town ‘mother … dot-dot-dots‘ (if you know what I mean). But my Grandma Katy, god rest her beautiful soul, might whack me upside my forehead, coming down from heaven or wherever she is now or sending a spirit or haint to haunt me if ever I used language like that in public.

But the ‘Joseph Billy’ part is true enough. But it’s not the whole story of my given Christian names. So, this is how it went down growing up.

The Way Back When

I was the first son of a couple of people who probably should never have had sons, much less chickens or goats. They fought all of my growing up like cats and dogs or scorpions in a bowl (to be honest, I never witnessed an actual scorpion, though might like to). They must once have been a happy couple. He was a two-sports star in high school (football and track) and she was “the prettiest cheerleader in the county,” as Grandma Katy liked to say, when she told stories about the way back when, which was a lot.

By the time I came along — the first boy of three boys — they “couldn’t agree on the exact hour of the day or whether it was rainy or sunshiney outside,” said Grandma K, who I suspect often told me things she told no one else.

As for me, their fighting began right out of the box, so to speak. Over what to name me. The following is what Grandma K informed me happened. 

Daddy wanted to call me ‘Joseph William,’ plus my last name, which I am not going to tell you because see my crazy neighbors. My Mom, on the other hand, wished for ‘John Robert.’

“They each had their reasons,” I remember Grandma K saying. 

‘John’ and ‘Robert’ were two names with important connections to my Mom. The first referenced my Mom’s own father and Grandma K’s late and lamented husband — John Jacob. And the other name was from my mother’s younger brother — Robert or ‘Bob. He, unfortunately, died in a terrible car accident while my Mom was still “the prettiest cheerleader in the county.” No one ever talked about that crash much growing up.

So, who knows why my Dad — who, as cousin Andy once put it, was “the King of Swinging Dicks” — would not honor my Mom’s choices. 

“He just insisted you be named ‘Joseph William,’” said Grandma K. 

His reasons were that ‘Joe’ represented his great-grandfather, who came to America from Sicily in the way back when. And that ‘William’ was his own middle name and he wished to pass that down the line.

The Scandal & The Box

“The fighting over the name got into a little scandal,” Grandma K told me. (I got all these quotes down in my Family Dollar notebook when she said stuff worth noting because it’s my personal history and family history, too, even if my brothers won’t give it the time of day).

“Your mother found love letters in a basement box from a woman named ‘Jo,” said Grandma K.

This Jo apparently had been a big love of Dad’s before he met my Mom. The fight that broke out after the discovery of ‘The Box’ was “a doozy,” said K (which is how I’d had taken to calling my Grandma Kay once she began confiding in me and I listened back. She didn’t seem to mind.)

“I remember that first big fight night over The Box because it was at Sunday dinner at our house,” said K. “Your mother cried at your father ‘You’re not wanting to just name your first-born son after your Dago granddad, but after your old girlfriend!’”

And she apparently flung that shoe box full of saved letters onto the dinner table, where some of the letters spilled over and out and into a plate of country chicken in gravy and green beans, soaking the paper.

“Well, your father, he grabbed for the letters and then raised his hand into a fist at the word ‘dago.’ And your mother grabbed a butter knife from the kitchen table and backed him up a foot or two. 

“That ain’t true at all!’ he cried. “She was just a best friend …”

But he looked “suspicious like,” said Grandma K, who I don’t think ever quite took to Dad. There was a lot not to like. For his part, he never did hit Mom. Then or ever, I don’t think. But it was scary more than a few times growing up and I have no desires to be that child I was.

Agree to Disagree

The thing was they were both the most cussed, stubborn people you’d ever meet, my Dad and Mom, when they come together over something that stood them apart. And when their cussedness hit and collided it was like cars crashing head on out on the interstate. Which created an even bigger, fierier mess than if they were on fire apart.

“Both would not give up their position on the proper naming of you,” said K. “So, they agreed to disagree. And gave you all four names.”

So, that is why growing up my daddy called me ‘Joe Billy.’ Or ‘Joseph William,’ when I was in trouble about something bad. And my Mom called me ‘John Bob.’ Or ‘John Robert’ when she chased me with a spatula, raging about something I did. Or, more commonly, did not do.

Which, now you know, is why I call this journal ‘JoeBillyJohnBob’s Place.” 

Call Me What You Call Me

You can tell different periods and ages in my life, plus my different stages of friends, by times when I was Joe, Joey and Joseph. Or ‘Joe Billy.’ And — lesser than those — ‘Johnny’ and ‘John Robert.’  Plus, there was a ‘JohnBob’ period my mom tried to lock in for several years. Which failed.

I kind of prefer just ‘Billy’ these days for casual use.

A couple of my very closest friends — one of them was the Woman of the World who helped clean up the way I talk and enlarged my thinking — called me ‘JoeBillyJohnBob,’ as a sorta joke that took. It was kind of like an ‘Open Sesame’ secret that no one else but the folks I loved most knew to call me. They used it when they wanted to talk to me down or love on me where maybe pillows were involved. Or we were trying to shut the rest of the damn crazy world out. And she’d/he’d lean in and say ‘Joebillyjohnbob, let’s get outa here ….”

More on that later. Maybe.

But the thing is, you just can’t be a writer with four names like ‘Joe Billy John Bob,’ unless you are, like, genius-level J.R.R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin.

So, I got creative.

And that is how Joseph ‘Billy’ Corduroy came to be. It’s a little bit of style, and a little bit of country. Which, if you were to ask me, is what I hope my writing gets across.

And now you know how I got my name(s).

One thought on “Why I Have 4 Names

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