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for people who care about the West

What's in a name? Just ask Dwayne or Trucklene


I was at a country-and-western dance bar. I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Y'all wanna dance?"

My suitor was a short man whose eyes failed to focus. His aftershave was a heady mixture of Jack Daniels and Old Spice. He wore his cowboy hat absurdly high, as if he were smuggling eggs under it. This particular gentleman had tried to entice me into a Cotton-Eyed Joe and a cowboy cha-cha earlier that evening, without success.

"No thanks, Dwight," I said. "Dwayne," he corrected in a tinny drawl. "Wayne," I said, straining to hear him above the song, "I Got Friends In Low Places." "Dwayne," he shouted, winking and swiveling his hips. "Dwhatever," I said. Until I moved West, I'd never known a man named Dwayne, nor his moniker brother, Wayne. We associate the name Marvin with nerdiness, Bertha with big-boned gals and Butch with thick-necked playground bullies. For me, Dwayne, or Wayne, conjures images of egg-smuggling, Garth Brooks-loving types.

Of course, I am stark naked in a glass house when it comes to this topic, having often been the victim of name-based stereotyping myself. My given name is Mary Louise Anne. This plaid-skirted, rosary-toting Catholic run-on of an ID was shortened during my childhood to Mary Lou, which conjures images of the-higher-the-hair-the-closer-to-God women who might, for instance, date men named Dwayne. When I came West I abridged my name further to Lou, an appellation that brings forth visions of burly men who work in auto body shops.

Lou is also the homonym for "loo," a British nickname for the toilet.

The only thing funnier to Brits than having your name associated with the potty is the name Mary Lou. It just breaks them up. They ask me if I live at the South Fork Ranch with J.R., Sue Ellen, and that little-known Ewing brother, Wayne.

It's all so unfair, this class bias based on names. A quick search on the Internet (always a trustworthy journalistic source) proved that Wayne is not an impediment in life. There are lots of scientists and professors named Wayne and a Wayne A. Bearstle was once the Dalai Lama's bodyguard. If you search for Mary Lou, you're likely to find * in addition to a numerous sites about a certain smallish gymnast * an inordinate number of real estate agents named Mary Lou, as in "Hello Mary Lou, good-bye house."

Other Wayne notables out there: hockey hottie Wayne Gretsky and Mr. Little Green Apples himself, Wayne Newton. (He maintains a fetching hairdo after all these years.) My very own state, Colorado, has a senator named Wayne. And while The Honorable Sen. Allard has the environmental voting record of, say, a pillaging Visigoth, his name isn't to blame. Sorry, all you Duke fans, but John Wayne doesn't count, because Wayne is his surname. His real first name was Marion, which he tossed like a hot potato, pilgrim.

However, it turns out that you may be trouble if your middle name is Wayne (think John Wayne Bobbit). The syndicated column, News of The Weird, runs an "Honor Roll of the Classic Middle Name" - a hefty compilation of accused murderers whose middle name is Wayne. Strangely there is no female counterpart to Wayne, such as Waynette.

I have noticed a penchant for the "-lene" suffix here in the West: Darlene, Charlene, Arlene, Marlene, Marvene, Merlene, and my favorite, Carlene. Carlene (sometimes exotically spelled Carleen) is the perfect all-American moniker, as it combines the American infatuation with the automobile and the beloved -lene suffix. The only thing better would be Trucklene. Or Loulene.

Did you know that Wayne, of Old English origin, means "wagon-maker"? The Teutonic name Dwight, go figure, means "white," while Dwayne, of Celtic origin, means "little mustachioed drunken bullrider." Okay, settle down, all you irate Dwaynes! Potty Girl here is just joking. Dwayne, sometimes exotically spelled Duane, actually means "little and dark."

What if we associated names with their literal translations? You'd have to think twice about naming your son Cameron, which means "crooked nose." You'd probably want to name your kid Charles, which means "manly" (as in former Arizona Suns basketball star Manly Barclay), or Alexander, which means "Helper of Mankind." Introductions would certainly be more interesting. ("Hi, I'm Helper of Mankind Jones, but feel free to call me Alex.") My own name, much to the delight of Waynes everywhere, would be Bitter (Mary) Potty (Lou) Bendrick.

Lou Bendrick lives in Western Colorado and has a dog named Simon, which means obedient, but he's not.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].