My wife has a beautiful name. Nadia Nieves. The alliteration of her initials combined with the internal assonance of ahh in Nadia and ehh in Nieves (knee-eh-vehs for the unfamiliar) allows for her name to roll off the tongue smoothly without any demand for serious flourish or navigation through a minefield stop consonants. In translation, Nadia means “hope” in Russian and Nieves is Spanish for “snow,” which on their own are conceptually beautiful—in combination, if I would assign any desire to snow, I would only want for it to be hopeful.
This is not my name.
Lyrically, the strength of Patrick Boyle falls into the comparison of two trochaic feet, but once that is established, we hit the wall for positive connotation. Patrick is a rare enough name in the world that even the most well-meaning people laughingly stutter around its surprisingly numerous variations without fear of offending anyone else in the room—Pat, Paddy, Patty, Patricia, Patrice, Patricio, Pasquale, and even ‘Rick—because the two syllables that comprise my name are far too ripe for some not to bastardize.
Boyle is not a surname that has ever spared me any sanity, either, as the oil sound is comically overemphasized to denote some sarcasm in my very existence, which of course has never been the limit of the incoming turmoil. Boyle is also construed with “boil” because homophones are fodder for the lazy. Jokes have always been poorly wrought from meaninglessly “boiling” something, to the more damaging implication that I am some Hell-born pustule. In translation Patrick means “nobleman,” a definition with which I have never felt an alignment. Boyle might in meaning having some extension of an ancient Irish chieftain making rash and volatile decisions or it might mean said chieftain was a savvy individual who could call on allies when needed. History isn’t quite sure.
For some people, having a name is easy.
The idea of choosing a name came up once in an undergraduate writing class after reading a few poets whose names were shortened to initials, modified, or wholly concealed behind pseudonyms. Did we as writers want to be known by our given name? Would we be accepted as writers despite our given name? Was it safer or more accurate to publish poems as H.D. instead of Hilda Doolittle? Would it make more sense to read the work of Patrick Ryan as opposed to Patrick Boyle (Ryan being my middle name)? For me the question always led to what felt like a huge betrayal of self. Why work toward honest writing if it meant that I’d sacrifice a lifelong aspect of my identity to do it? Is it ridiculous to think that a name is mostly superficial, given to me by someone else? That the truth of whatever I write supersedes whatever identity brings it forth.
I didn’t then really have an answer.
I did, however, willingly give myself over to other names, nicknames that secured for me some sense of place and purpose, of some tangible respect in my identity. PB—just my initials—was popular for me in later high school years and throughout college. PB was a blank slate. When I hosted my own radio show in college, PB gave me room to develop a sense of identity and persona without reservation, without attack. I built a network around that name, interviewing bands and artists, announcing myself on-air often multiple times per week for years as PB. Colleagues, professors, even some odd family members who happened to tune in referred to me as PB off the air. It wasn’t until after I had graduated and started my own ventures that I had to shake hands with other professionals, stare them in the eye, and affirm myself as Patrick once again. Even today, nearly a decade beyond completing my undergraduate degree and leaving PB as a past persona, holding the world accountable to calling me Patrick (let alone completely Patrick Boyle) regularly feels like a task to handle where I assume it is an easy thing for mostly everyone else to drop their own name. While I know Nieves gets mispronounced pretty regularly, I’ve always known my wife to fearlessly stick out her hand and introduce herself (and I love this about her).
Even as I work on this, I still hear occasionally that my name is weird.
I recognize this is a lot of writing to support what might seem like a very small anxiety. But let’s compound the fact that outwardly, unbeknownst to most people in my life today, that I lived with miserable acne from seventh grade through my sophomore year of college. That I’ve been overweight, and then not, and then chubby, and then not, and still fluctuate in my body shape, size, and weight enough that I’m not regularly fitting in the same pair of jeans. That I tend toward being shy and introverted guy with stage fright. Who am I, a person often uncomfortable getting dressed and moving through disparate social contexts, to declare myself as Patrick…or anything at all? It’s often been more of a mountain to climb than a bridge to cross.
I know this, too, accounts for a certain lack in my writing life. Self-expression, for me at least, comes with a measure of self-security. All of my writing throughout my time in the MFA program at Bennington was done when I was secure: completely alone at night, sitting cross-legged in my bed, with only my dog occasionally breaking into my space to lay awkwardly across my notepads. Submitting that work for review was only achievable because I knew I was getting support from my professors and cohort more than anything else, all of whom were always unbelievably gracious. And while I’ve made my way through the writing world a tiny, tiny, tiny way as an editor, it was done in support of other voices more than my own. I’m not always confident being seen (today mostly for my writing than other things; There are poems I’ve published that I never really let anyone know about, never shared with friends or family. And I’ve only recently started posting statuses on Facebook and Twitter as small means of self-expression publicly) and that confidence waxes and wanes like every other small anxiety I have. I often choose to not write because I know there is an end where I need to send it—send myself—into the world for judgment.
I’m working on it.
Why did I make stickers of my name? Partly, yeah, as a way to brand myself. I openly engage in work where, as an MC/DJ, people hire me based on my name and reputation. Clients call my company’s office looking for me—They ask for Patrick (sure, go ahead, cue memes of the pink starfish answering the phone at the Krusty Krab). And while it isn’t totally necessary to go so far as to turn my name into a personal logo, it does start to build a visible dimension of recognition alongside my name. Beyond the business end, it becomes about making my name an object in the world—an undeniable thing that exists separate from me but is also wholly me at the same time.
As much as I see myself, I see my name every day. Giving it shape, color, and attitude in design has allowed me to take ownership of that name. Patrick Boyle. And that process, too, was acutely terrifying since I’m not a graphic designer. I had to give control of my name to someone else, hoping it would be justly served. Overall choices were mine to make, revisions were done, but I still took hours just to find the right person to trust with this work. For the artist on FIVERR, it was probably just another gig. For me, it was a process of self-definition.
Today, holding the stickers, keeping them on me is honestly difficult. I don’t want to show people. I love the design, but it feels like a wildly prideful assertion. They are more dynamic and public for me than business cards. There is no other company logo to hide behind, to act as representative of. No other information to conceal or distract the recipient’s attention. And why, why, should anyone take my name and affix it on something?
The challenge is now similar to looking in a mirror, similar to wearing a bold new outfit on your birthday in front of the world, asking, “How do I look?”
I honestly want to know.