My given name is Rickey. Not Richard. Rickey. In fact, I am Rickey, Junior, as I am named after my father. Among family, I’m sometimes referred to as “Little Rickey,” though I am 42 years old and 3” taller than my dad. I’ve stopped growing, but he’s bound to start shrinking any day now, so I fully expect that height differential to keep expanding.
People spell my name incorrectly all the time – Ricky is the most common, followed by Rickie. Sometimes people mispronounce it, sounding more like “hey asshole” than the phonics would otherwise indicate. I always respond, though, so I guess it works.
I went through a few distinct phases in my feelings about my name.
When I was a little kid, I never reflected on my name. It just was.
When I got a little older, I grew embarrassed that my name was a nickname rather than a more traditional name. And on top of that, it wasn’t a “correctly” spelled nickname. I viewed my name as confirmation of what my impoverished, rural environs suggested: I was poor white trash.
As time went on, that angst faded. I accomplished things that required more intellect and ability than “poor white trash” would have been able to muster. Things like success in extracurricular activities, academics, and later, career, served to bolster my confidence in my own skin. It no longer mattered if you thought I was poor white trash. In fact, I was more likely to play into it as a means of disarming you. It’s easier to beat someone who underestimates you.
Incidentally, my middle name is Lee. So my name is Rickey Lee Dobbs. All of the best country singers go by three names, like David Allan Coe, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard…I could go on, namely because my parents named me Rickey Lee Dobbs, and a broad knowledge of 70’s and 80’s outlaw country came stapled to my birth certificate.
One of my fraternity brothers told me once it sounded like a bull rider’s name. Comin’ out of chute #12, riding a bull they call, “the Widowmaker,” it’s Rickey Lee Dobbs from Waller, Texas!
Side note: I have ridden a bull. His name was Herman, and he was very docile. It was nothing like you see on TV. Also, I was 5, and Herman was probably 20, which is elderly in bull years. I’m sure that had something to do with Herman’s docility. That and the lack of a rope tied around his junk to make him buck.
Along the way, I started to realize the truth of Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” To apply it more coarsely than the former First Lady, I began to understand that no one gives a rat’s ass about my name…except me, of course.“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” - Eleanor Roosevelt Click To Tweet
As Rickey, I’ve done some pretty substantial things, most of which I’ll leave out of this narrative lest I waste valuable screen space with braggadocio.
Several years ago, I was a general manager for a large full-service restaurant in Las Vegas. Things were going well, and the company promoted me to director of operations for northern California. It was a big accomplishment, one of which I’m still proud to this day, even though I’ve long since left that company. I was the youngest director in our company, responsible for several of the highest revenue-producing restaurants we owned.
When I got promoted, the Chief Operating Officer of the company called me.
“How attached are you to the name ‘Rickey’?”
“Well, sir, it’s my name, so I guess I’m that attached?” I responded.
He continued, “The reason I ask is because you’re moving up the ladder, and your name is going to be used more and more in press releases, filings with the SEC, you name it. And for what it’s worth, ‘Rickey’ doesn’t sound professional.”
Hmm. I felt the blood rushing to my face as a mix of anger and embarrassment cascaded through my body. I was somewhere between, “go fuck yourself,” and, “shit, I’ve been found out, all of this success hasn’t been fooling anyone.”
I mustered a response.
“Um, okay, sure. What did you have in mind?”
I’m not sure what I expected him to have in mind…like was he going to suggest I change my name to something more grandiose, like Cornwallis Von Gherkin or something?
“Well, how do you feel about going by ‘Rick’?”
I mean, compared to Cornwallis Von Gherkin, “Rick” is kind of boring. But I guess it does make more sense.
Being caught off guard and carrying a life’s worth of repressed feelings on the matter, I kowtowed to the COO’s request.
“Sure, sounds good. ‘Rick’ it is.”
I am pretty sure my name was never used in any press releases or SEC filings, for the record. I’m also pretty sure that the COO’s request was a bully move, aimed at rocking me onto my heels and reminding me of my place in spite of my upward trajectory.
Oddly, our CEO’s nickname—Jerry, short for Gerald—was on all kinds of public-facing publications. As were our VP’s nicknames (Chris and Steve, neither of those on their birth certificates as far as I can tell). And plenty of our directors went by shortened, informal names.
Still, I could have said no. I could have stood my ground. I told my peers about it over drinks one night, and they all said it was, and I quote, “horse shit.”
But I didn’t stand my ground. I changed my name to appease a bully who likely asked me to change it just because he could.
Time goes by. All of my new subordinates know me as Rick. My email signature block says ‘Rick.’ Being ‘Rick’ instead of ‘Rickey’ is becoming normal for me, though I am resentful of the change each and every time it comes to mind…which is a lot, considering it’s my name.
One thing leads to another, two years pass, and I leave the company.
In the days immediately after my resignation, I found myself with a lot of spare time and decided to travel home to Texas to see my family. On the day before I was to fly out of town, I went to my favorite local bar to have a “few” drinks. “Few” is restaurant-people language for “thirteen.”
As I was drowning my sorrows in a bottomless Ketel One and soda, a guy sat next to me. I introduced myself as Rick. His name was Mike. He was apparently an expert skier and marathon runner, according to his unsolicited verbal résumé. You know, one of those top athletes who smokes and drinks a lot and has a gut. Mike was a little drunker than I was, it seemed. He started giving me unsolicited advice on how to get women.
“See, what you gotta do is, you gotta find the hottest girl in the bar. If you’re gonna strike out, strike out swinging. See? What about that girl over there?”
Mike points to the woman who has now been my girlfriend since about two weeks after that night. I didn’t know that part at the time, though.
“Yeah, Mike. She’s beautiful.”
“So go talk to her!”
“Yeah, maybe later. Right now I’m gonna hit the bathroom, though.”
I made my way to the head to release some of the vodka back into the wild. I headed back toward the bar, only to see Mike chatting up the hot woman.
“Rick, come here! Hey, have you met Rick?”
And with that, Mike disappeared. Not like he dissipated at a cellular level, though that would have been cool to see. I was pretty drunk, but I think it was more like my limited field of vision went fully toward the woman, and I never saw Mike again.
“Hi, I’m Rick.”
Fucking shit. I’M NOT RICK. I’m Rickey. I’m only ‘Rick’ because that fucking prick COO decided that the name my parents gave me, the name of my father, the name that I’d lived 35 years with, wasn’t good enough.
The fact that I introduced myself as ‘Rick’ seven years ago still bothers me to this day. Selling out is one thing, but this was different. Being a sellout had now become a part of me. I had literally thrown away my given name and replaced it with something I didn’t want or choose. And introducing myself to this beautiful, incredible woman, using that new name, was like ratifying the decision. The name was foisted upon me, true. But now I owned it.
I think it was during our first date two weeks later that I told her I really preferred to go by ‘Rickey.’ She’s honored my request ever since, for almost seven years now. Except when she calls me “hey asshole,” which is pretty rare, to be fair. Always deserved, but rare.
Ever since I left that company, I’ve made it a point to forcefully, unilaterally go by my given name. It’s a good name. It’s my dad’s name. It could be the name of an outlaw country singer. Or a bull rider. Or an attorney. Or an entrepreneur, a restaurateur, or a writer.
And it’s my name, which is all the justification it has ever needed.