Recently, someone asked the reason for my name. I thought I knew but decided to make sure. As I thought about calling my mother and asking her how it was chosen, the telephone rang. Serendipitously, it was my mother, calling to check on me. I think she worries a bit more than usual, now that – after almost forty years of marriage – I am a widower. I told her I was okay, that I had been just about to call, and why.
“How did I choose your name?” she asked herself. “Let me think. How did I choose your name?”
After a moment, I asked if it had been because of the Hollywood movie star Gregory Peck, which I always had assumed. It was not strange for me to have done so. As a child watching a music show on television once, I had been amazed by the host announcing a singer named Julius La Rosa, the first and middle names of one of my younger brothers.
“Gregory Peck,” my mother said in contemplation. “No, I don’t think so, but I honestly can’t remember. It might come to me if I think about it. You know,” she said, laughing, “you’re going to have to excuse your 90-year-old mother’s memory.”
My mother and father had to choose names for four boys, three girls, and, then, two more boys. I was third up. For me, my name has never been anything other than something that serves its fundamental purpose without embarrassment. After all, it turns out that Gregory was Mr. Peck’s middle name; his given name was Eldred. But, who knows? I probably would not have cared one way or the other about that one, either. I mean, The Bard is right, is he not, about his whole rose-by-any-other-name thing? That is why I considered, during the Black Power era, changing my name as many were doing. I didn’t, which is just as well. I probably would have done the same thing others did: give up their given names for Arabic names in the mistaken belief that they were West African names, thereby dropping the names from Christians slave masters, only to pick up those from Muslim slave masters.
Today, on this Easter Sunday, I remember that Christians, apparently, love the name. There were sixteen popes who selected it; also, there are ten saints with the name. I discovered this at some point in my youth, after learning that names not only have meanings but are supposed to have meanings. I began to search for the origin and meaning of mine and read, initially, that the name is of Germanic origin. I later found that a consensus considered this incorrect, that the name is really of Greek origin and passed into Roman culture; I suspect that from the latter is how it made its way to those Germans known as the Angles and the Saxons. Regardless, the meaning, the same across cultures, has an ironic resonance today: woke.
Woke, or awake are just two of the synonyms commonly associated with the name’s meaning. Others include watchful, alert, and guardian. The one most often used is vigilant, which, most likely, is why the name became so popular among Christians; in a letter Peter the Apostle wrote to followers, he exhorted them to be vigilant.
As I write, I am reflecting on the fact that I have known others with the name, but not many. This seems as though it should be improbable, since it is not an uncommon name, but I remember my wife once saying that the only other Gregory she had known before me was a boy in her elementary school class.
My mother, who still cooks and cleans and does laundry; who – at her ninetieth birthday party — was on the dance floor in three-inch, red heels; and whose memory still surprises me, has yet to recall the reason for my name. My father died two decades ago. The reason for my name is and, likely, shall remain a mystery.