When I was a little kid I wasn’t Rob, I was Robbie. It’s my little kid name. Everyone in my family still calls me Robbie. When I was in grade school, I didn’t think anything of it. Sure it was a little kid name, but I was a little kid, and so it wasn’t an obvious problem. Although it was something that I had to be very specific about. Whenever I moved up in school, like when I finished the third grade and went to the fourth, I’d have to make sure to tell my new teacher right away, that I don’t like being called Robert, it’s Robbie. And they’d be like, “OK Robbie, you got it!”
And then they’d be doing some sort of an icebreaker lesson at the beginning of the year, something where they’d be writing down every student’s name on the chalkboard, and maybe one of them would write Robby. And I’d have to raise my hand in the middle of this little game or whatever it was that this teacher was doing to try and make the boring school day go by just a little quicker. And the teacher would usually ignore me. Teachers can’t encourage that type of behavior, that raising your hand whenever you feel like it, expecting the teacher to stop midsentence to see whatever it is you’d have to say. So the teacher would wave to me, a wave without looking at me, a wave that said, “Robby! Put your hand down right this second! I’m the teacher and I’m in the middle of talking here!”
And instead of putting my hand down I would reach even higher, like a yoga pose, reaching from my heart, trying as hard as I could to make it even higher than it was before, and I’d wiggle my fingers dramatically, like, teacher, I know I’m not supposed to interrupt here, but this is important, this is my name here, and you’ve got it all wrong, and maybe all of the other kids, well, they won’t be consciously looking at it, but it’s going to be there, in their memories somewhere, and the next time they have to write out birthday party invitations or Valentine’s Day cards, they’re all going to write out Robby instead of Robbie.
But my new teacher would be so pissed. She’d turn dramatically to me with that mean teacher scowl and say, “Robby! Put your hand down, now!” and yeah, I probably should have just put my hand down, but at least I had her attention now, at least we were in a dialogue here, so I’d say, “But …” and she’d say, “But nothing! Is this how you want to start off the school year? Is it Robby?” and I’d fidget a little and put this helpless expression on my face and I’d say, “But Mrs. …” “That’s it! One more word out of you and it’s straight to the principal’s office! Put! Your! Hand! Down! Right! This! Second! Now!”
And I wouldn’t have a choice. I’d have to sit there and squirm in my seat, Robby written right in front of me on the board, mocking me, taunting me. And when the teacher said, “Is this how you want to start off the school year,” that’s not really fair, because she’s making it like she’s asking me a question, like she’s giving me the option to start off the school year in a different way. But all she cared about was doing her little intro lesson and I interrupted her, twice, so regardless of how I acted for the rest of that presentation or whatever, I’m already a little nuisance kid, one of those students who won’t sit still, one of those kids who, if he has his hand raised, you better not call on him, because you don’t want to encourage his thinking that he can just sit there and raise his hand every time he wants to hijack the class.
But then I got to the eighth grade and I realized all at once that I didn’t want to be a little kid anymore. I wanted to be an adult. I didn’t want my parents telling me I couldn’t buy CDs with the parental advisory sticker on the front. I didn’t want anybody telling me when I had to be home for dinner or to go to bed because it was late. I wanted to be a man. And try as I could, I could never find any real life men named Robbie. They just don’t exist. My dad’s name is Robert also, but he goes by Bob at work. I settled on Rob, that was pretty adultish, definitely to be taken more seriously than Robbie.
Implementing the change was harder than I thought. Sure, I could start writing Rob instead of Robbie on all of my homework assignments, but by this point in school I had already made such a huge deal about being called Robbie to every single teacher that it was a little much to expect them to notice that I’d started writing my name differently on pieces of paper that they probably weren’t really grading anyway. And then trying to get my classmates to call me Rob instead of Robbie, that was impossible. The minute you try to do something like that, it’s an automatic invitation to have everyone call you Robbie at least twice as much as they did before. Why? I don’t know, little kids are all assholes. That’s what I would have done if little Johnny one day came to school and told everyone he was Jack from here on out.
But it didn’t matter, because the next year I started high school, a clean slate. All I had to do was make sure that I severed all contact with anybody from grade school and it would be a done deal. Goodbye Robbie, hello Rob G.
Every once in a while Robbie resurfaces. Like I said, I’ll always be Robbie to my family. I used to try to fight it, but it’s a losing battle. It’s like I’ll never stop calling my little sister Jessie, even though she hates being called Jessie. It’s not even a conscious decision. Those types of family dynamics are hard to shape.
But the rest of the world is totally mine to mold. And I have to constantly be on guard. My life will be going great, I’ll have a good group of friends, no problems, when out of nowhere someone might drop Robbie in, trying to be overly informal, maybe joking around. But maybe somebody else will hear it and it’ll spread. Pretty soon everyone will be calling me Robbie and I’ll be feeling like a little kid, and I’ll call all of my friends in for a group meeting, and I’ll say, “Thanks for coming everyone. The reason I called you all in here is because you’ve all been calling me Robbie a lot lately. I just want to state, for the record, that my name isn’t Robbie, it’s Rob, and I would appreciate it a lot if you didn’t call me Robbie ever again. Thank you.”
Everyone will stare at me and said, “You actually called a meeting over this?” And they’ll laugh and think it a little crazy to go through all of this trouble over a nickname. And it’ll have the unintended effect of actually strengthening the nickname, because now nobody can stop talking about that stupid group meeting I called, and how I really need to get over myself. And then I’ll have to get a whole new group of friends and reinvent myself all over again. It’s taxing after a while.
One time I got my sister Emily’s boyfriend Pete a job at the restaurant where I worked. He didn’t know any better, and because he’s dating my sister, he comes in and says that Robbie told him to come in. And everybody at work is like “Robbie?” And it just grew and snowballed, everybody calling me Robbie. So I thought, OK, if I address it, it’s just going to get stronger. So I pretended to ignore it this time. Like anytime somebody called me “Robbie!” I would have absolutely no reaction. But people must have caught on to this also, because they’d be like, “Hey Robbie, how come you get so quiet and red faced every time somebody calls you Robbie?”
And so I had to quit that job also. And now I’m at another job. I guess it could be worse. Robbie’s a lot better than Bobby. I don’t think I’ve every met anybody in real life who goes by Bobby. It’s like a cartoon character’s name. And I’m not a cartoon character. I’m a real life person. An adult. I’m real life adult man. And my name is Rob, not Robbie, definitely not Robby. Got it? Cool?