This past month, as I considered new names for my web site www.chaplainnorris.com, some of my friends began questioning my motives for making such a change. As I considered their challenge, I remembered a similar struggle with my name that happened during my adolescent years.
During those years, I had a lot of trouble pronouncing my name with any sort of confident clarity. Absent the self-assured inflection I’d heard in the voice of my mentors, my pronunciation often communicated more of my self-doubts, than any kind of identity.
When I tried telling people, “My name is Norris,” the resulting confusion caused many to respond with a one-word question.
Repeating my name for them only seemed to frustrate my inquisitors.
“What! Did you say Morris?” Or they’d ask, “Yes, but what’s your first name?”
By the summer of 1975, I’d had enough of the confusion.
So, when I was offered a job a thousand miles from my home at a church camp outside Santa Fe NM, I saw an opportunity to audition a name change.
When I entered the gates of the campgrounds on June 10th, 1975, I was ready with the change. Upon being asked my name, I blurted out the first syllable of my middle name, “Ed.” I’d not only changed to my middle name, but I was already using the abbreviated version.
I still remember the reply – “What? Did you say, Fred?”
It was quickly apparent that my lack of confidence was still causing me to mumble my name. Ed seemed to leave my mouth with no more clarity than did Norris.
By the end of the summer job – with a lot of encouragement from my mother who reminded me that she wouldn’t have named me Norris if she had intended me to go by Ed – I returned to Norris.
Out in the middle of New Mexico, the name experiment had seemed harmless enough. After all, it was only a summer job and I was headed for Baylor University in Texas where I figured I would leave my AKA Ed life.
Not so fast. I wasn’t the only staff member from the camp headed for Baylor.
Imagine the surprise on the face of the freshman girl I escorted to the homecoming bonfire when we were both greeted by two girls calling me “Ed.”
In the dorm, camp friends who would continually introduce me as Ed compounded the confusion. My roommates were further confused when I asked them not to discard any mail addressed to “Ed Burkes.”
By my sophomore year, David Allen Coe’s song, “You Never Even Call Me by My Name,” became a favorite song of mine. But by my senior year, I’d persuaded all of my friends to call me Norris once again – with only one exception.
That exception came from an especially spunky blonde I’d met in that New Mexico camp. And through all four years of college, my roommates would often return from the mailbox with one of her letters. “Yoo-hoo, oh Ed!” they’d call, mimicking her with a falsetto voice. “She wrote you another letter.”
It took a lot of persuasion to get this girl to call me Norris. She preferred the name Ed and it seemed as though she’d never concede, but on Jan 5, 1980 she finally made a pledge to forever call me Norris.
“Norris,” she said, “I take thee to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.”
Happy 25th anniversary, sweetheart. You’ve always known who I am – even though I often lack a clue. Your love changes me because it honors the best in me. It is a love for the person God created me to be – not what I should, could or would have been. And in that love, I find the most cherished reminder of the love of God.
And that is something that both Ed and Norris will cherish forever.