David Charles Marshall Jackson was his name. The poor kid was named after his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That’s the price one pays for being the second son whose older brother was not stuck with any ancestral names. You get them all, at least in the Ballard-Jackson clan in 1947. Yet, regardless of the reason for our names, we are each more than a name, at least we can be.
In David’s case, he did his best to stand out as something other than the vessel carrying the remembrances of others. And, he was lucky in a way. By the time he was born, we’d already been through the saga of nicknames or diminutive names with my given name. If that little battle had not been fought before his arrival, he’d have been known as little Davy or little Charley for the rest of his life. Our great-grandfather’s no-nonsense demeanor David was David from birth.
Names matter, in ways beyond simple identification and differentiation. Several studies have indicated names can affect everything from how you appear to where you live and your occupation. Still, the primary purpose of a name is identification. Think of a first-grade teacher riding herd on a dozen or so little girls and boys. Without names, the teacher would be calling out something such as, “Hey! You, the little boy in the back left corner of the room in the red shirt.” Instead, the teacher can say, “David, can you read the first line in on the board?”
Yet, we are much more than a name. For example, at this moment, if someone googled my first and last name, they might find a former professional basketball player. They could find some academic types, as my given name and surname seem to have pushed many people into research, teaching, and writing, me included. This brings me to the point of this piece.
According to the Vietnam Memorial Fund, there are 58,320 names on the memorial. Of course, there are thousands, tens of thousands more names in cemeteries, other monuments, and government records of service-related deaths. In each case, the thing to remember is whether the name helped shape a person’s life or not. Each person represented on a memorial, lying in a grave or simply recorded in a record somewhere, was more than a name. He or she was a child, brother, sister, husband, father, wife, mother, or a combination of these characteristics.
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