What's in a Name? - Quite a Lot, If It's Vestal
It's an old Southern tradition, naming the firstborn son after his father, and in many cases linking generations before that.
The intent, probably, is to give the son a moniker that will lead the way to great things in life. A good name rolls trippingly off the tongue with some majesty. Think George Herbert Walker Bush, for instance. Positively presidential.
By chance, I was graced with a grand old Southern-sounding name: Vestal Columbus Taylor III.
Oddly, I am not the firstborn son; I was second in line. My mother, a pragmatic woman, simply couldn't bring herself to name her newborn something that grandiose, so Dad gave it up and settled for David Ross the first time. There is no back story for him.
But by the time I came along, my grandfather, Vestal Sr., was dying. So my mother relented on her previous ban and her dream of naming me Chester, after her nee name. I suspect she was willing to throw in Columbus to get her end of the deal, so I would have been Chester Columbus Taylor, with Chet as a nickname. But Grandpa caught the cancer, and my fate was sealed.
Vestal Columbus? How do you get Pat out of that? I've been asked that question thousands of times. Somewhere it dawned on me it was a gift, and a great conversation starter. People are perpetually curious.
When I was a kid, everyone had straightforward names like Ricky, Jimmy, Susie, Bobby, Bobbie, Tommy, Pattie or Martha. Having a different name is no big deal now, because parents try to see how differently they can name their kids, like they are all going to be Elvis or Madonna.
But back then, if you had an unusual name, the first day of school was a dreaded event. The teacher bugles at roll call, "Vestal Columbus Taylor." The class looks around and breaks out laughing out loud. And you start the new school year wishing you were invisible.
You may be wondering where the name Vestal comes from. I have wondered that same thing my whole life and recently found out.
There is an even older Vestal in the family tree, born around 1830. He was a great-uncle to my grandfather (born 1891), and must be the inspiration for the name. The Columbus tag must be from the explorer, because my grandfather was born on the 400th anniversary of his New World landing. Columbus was still a hero back then.
Early in the 1800s, there was improvement in the quality of telescopes, and with that came a plethora of discoveries of new planets, asteroids and other bodies whirling through space. In a recent copy of Discover magazine, I discovered that during this period two celestial bodies were found that were initially thought to be new planets, but were later downgraded to asteroids. The most interesting of them was named Vesta. Recent NASA studies of Vesta found it is surprisingly like Earth in its makeup.
In this time of constant discoveries, Vesta was big news. Astronomy got people talking then, just like when man first went into space.
Vesta is a girl's name, however - from a common household Latin virgin goddess. It hearkens back to keepers of the sacred fire, Rome's Vestal Virgins.
All of that public discussion around newfound heavenly bodies caused parents to name their baby girls Vesta, and the male version Vestal. This reached its zenith in the late 1800s, about the time my grandfather was born. By the 1920s, when my dad came along, the name was no longer popular. And by 1951, the only way my mother would agree to such an old-fashioned name was to call me something else. So it became Pat, shortened from her mother's family name, Kilpatrick.
But my ancestors, years earlier, helped start the naming trend via the original Vestal Taylor. He had no middle name, and probably didn't need one. With a name like Vestal, it's kind of like being Elvis or Madonna.
So, in short, I'm named after an asteroid so named to honor a virgin goddess. Not exactly the stuff to inspire great dreams.
But, in case you are wondering: Yes, I did the same thing to my son. He is Vestal Columbus Taylor IV. He also has several nicknames: O'Brien (after his mother's maiden name), O'B, Ob, Obie Won, and One (after his college baseball number).
I hope he comes to appreciate the favor I did for him. It's just the Southern thing to do.
Vestal (Pat) Taylor is advertising director for The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com.
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