On either side of my home in the Norma Triangle are lovely gay couples that my husband and I sometimes invite over for cocktails or a barbecue. One of the things I love about West Hollywood is this sort of neighborhood diversity. I like that gay and straight people are different in some ways, and appreciate how, at core, we are really alike.
But one of the differences that neither my husband, Chuck, nor I understand is why gays always use their full first names. Chuck says that if he were Jefferson or William, or Matthew or Stephen, he’d call himself Jeff or Bill or Matt or Steve. When I’ve tried such nicknames on my neighbors over cocktails, I get a surprised look from them. Once Jefferson even corrected me. That seems so odd. What is it about?
Margaret (my friends call me Maggie)
As someone whose given name is Henry Earl Scott but is called Hank by half of his friends, I was tempted to toss your question in the digital trash. But exceptions such as mine do tend to prove the rule. We gays do go for multi-syllable nomenclature.
Of course, when it comes to first names, every culture has its quirks. In Tea Party Land you’ll encounter Tagg, as in Romney, and Tripp, as in Palin. You’ll find heterosexual guys named Pinckney and Langston in the South. And then there’s Hollywood, where Shannyn Sossamon and Dallas Clayton named their son Audio Science, and Irving “Ving” Rhames named a son Freedom and a daughter Reignbeau.
Not to be outdone, magician Penn Jillette has named his sons Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten.
So remind me, who were you saying had odd first names? Oh, right, you were asking about the oddity of gays using formal first names!
I conducted a quick survey of some of my more culturally aware gay friends over cocktails in Boystown. The vote was five to one that the gay habit of using full first names is an unconscious way of asking for respect. That’s something that isn’t hard for gays to find in West Hollywood but often was scarce in the cities and towns where most of us were born. The thinking is you’re going to treat a Jefferson more seriously than a Jeff on first encounter. You’re going to assume a Montgomery has more gravitas than a Monty.
But far as I know, there’s no science on this one. I’d love to have our gay readers, particularly the hordes with counseling degrees from Antioch, weigh in with their own theories.
Hank (but you, Maggie, can call me Henry)
Questions you can’t bring yourself to ask your gay friends and neighbors? Send them to Henry@WEHOville.com.