What’s in a name, you might ask, but with the US presidential election looming it means a lot to some, says Donald Walker
It is forgivable to have little interest in your own first name, other than a grasp of the standard requirements of pronunciation and spelling. Most of us will also want to know why our name was chosen for us, but not everyone feels the need to know what their name means. After all, what does any of this matter? We answer to our given name through every day of life, but its selection had nothing to do with our own preference, and can’t be considered a comment on a personality that didn’t exist as a new-born.
I’ve always considered myself lucky on this front, and I’m grateful to my parents for giving me a name that I might have picked if I had been in their position back then. Donald is recognisable, but not common, perish the thought. All the way through school, I can only recall one other Donald in town – bizarrely, we lived in the same street, at numbers 66 and 67 – although visits to the Western Isles in recent years have turned me into a nervous wreck, when I hear “my” name in use every ten yards.
“Donald” has a bit of history, and yet is unencumbered by the baggage of family tradition. On a practical level, it’s easy to spell. And as an added bonus, it’s Scottish. I couldn’t have asked for much more than that, and I’ve been more than comfortable answering to Donald throughout my life.
As a child, there was also an irrational pride in the meaning of my name. There are various takes on the exact meaning but the book of names at home said Donald came from the Gaelic for “world chief”. Who wouldn’t be happy with that? As if to underline this birthright, it wasn’t long before I discovered that two Donalds had been kings of Scotland, and before them, a Donald was King of the Picts. But could I ever have imagined that in my lifetime, a Donald would indeed stand on the brink of becoming a world chief – with apologies to Donalds Tusk and Rumsfeld, president of the European Council and former US defence secretary respectively, whose claims I have conveniently overlooked for the purposes of this article. Yet here we are today, one step from Donald Trump being elected President of the United States of America.
In recent months I have feared that the rise of Trump would see my name taken in vain forevermore, but it may already be too late to avoid this fate. A quick browse on the internet yesterday confirmed the depressing truth, with one search highlighting a page headed: “Famous Donalds less despicable than Trump”. Despicable Donalds? Has it really come to this?
It would be wrong to pretend that being called Donald has been without its challenges. First up was Donald Duck, and having to contend with the countless quackers who thought they were both gifted impersonators and brilliantly original, a practice which mercifully didn’t last much longer than primary school. However, the poor man’s Mickey Mouse made a comeback later in life as past-tense rhyming slang for a lost cause.
Donny Osmond was another bête noire from that era, and although references to the 70s singer petered out long ago, any attempt to turn Donald into Donny is taken as a personal insult. I don’t much appreciate Don either, even if the abbreviation covers legends in the world of sport such as Bradman and Quarrie. There’s also Don Hutchinson, a Wembley hero in 1999, although he’s offset by Don Masson, a Cordoba villain in 1978. Don’t start me on Don King, who was despicable long before Trump laid claim to the title. But pity poor Don Johnson, who was born Donnie. Not one of us, sorry.
The strains of Puppy Love were still fading when guess who had just come down from the Isle of Skye (again) to inflict misery on Donalds across the land? Andy Stewart passed away 23 years ago and I confess to being less moved by his passing than others were, but his legacy endures in the form of a wisecrack which I hear on just about a weekly basis. Only once has it been a welcome retort, during a trip to Dublin for a rugby international and wearing kilt. As I struggled to recollect the detail of an eventful evening the night before, an Irish girl approached and stopped me with an arresting: “Donald!” My blood ran cold in anticipation of what unplatable truth might be coming next, and the poor girl must have thought she had stumbled upon a brilliant chat-up line when I was overjoyed at her uttering the monotonous words: “Where’s yer troosers?”
Still, at least all those comedians grasped the “Donald” bit. The downside of having this slightly unusual first name is that it is often lazily turned into Douglas or Duncan by the types who would have their world turned upside down if they arrived at the golden arches to find the place rebranded McDavids.
And the name is heard even less frequently today, with Donald ranking the 242nd most popular name for a boy in Scotland in 2014 – on a par with Arlo, a name I had not even heard of until looking up this statistic. Just 21 wee Donalds came into the world in Scotland that year, while the name has also been on the wane in the United States. Back in 1934, it was the sixth most popular choice for a boy in America, but that rating had tumbled to 441 by last year (that’s just 690 of over two million new arrivals). Ever had the feeling you’re yesterday’s man?
It’s well documented that New York immigrant Mary MacLeod looked to her Lewis roots when naming her second son, so the Republican Party’s nomination for the White House has every right to be proud of his name, and I suppose he deserves some credit for refusing to capitulate to an abbreviation. But the rest of us must wonder if our name is destined to become a byword for a misogynist, a racist or an egomaniac.
And as if that isn’t bad enough, we have to contend with constant reference to “The Donald”, as if there is no other. For this we have his wife Ivana to blame, who first coined the ego-swelling nickname, but its use has been perpetuated by the media. Bloody journalists, they are a lazy bunch.
Yet it would be wrong to allow Trump to sully namesakes which include the likes of Donald Sutherland and Donald Pleasance, Donald Sinden and Donald Fagen, Don Everly and Don Henley, Donald Dewar and Donald Dinnie (I’ve been called that a few times, although never deliberately). Hell, even Don Corleone doesn’t deserve it.
There is some consolation to be taken from an assessment on one website devoted to boys’ names, which states: “While the name has taken a back-seat in recent years to more up and coming, trendier options, ‘Donald’ still holds a notable ranking and has a strong Scottish heritage that will live on for centuries to come.”
But for the first time in my life, my interest in the outcome of a presidential election has nothing to do with foreign policy or human rights. Please Hillary, on behalf of Donalds everywhere, don’t leave us without a name.