What’s in a name…
Travis comes to mind


The following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try to give all of the material posted on this site.

I always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more than 50,000 words by the end of November.

Thank you.

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It was about 15 years ago when, on an evening in March, Terry, Jay, Justin and I took a car ride to pick up a new puppy.

I don’t recall the exact timing… couldn’t tell you if he was in the car and we were driving home, or if it happened on a different evening… but I do recall all four of us debating names for this little guy. If I really try to remember, I’d probably say that we drove out to meet him twice… once to pick him out, and once to pick him up. And, the discussion of names happened after we had met him for the first time.

At some point the song “Incommunicado” from Jimmy Buffett becomes involved… which includes a reference to the great John MacDonald character, Travis McGee. (Maybe that should read: “a reference to the great John MacDonald’s great character”… hmm. Anyway…)

Very shortly thereafter, our little boy had a name… Travis.

Funny thing names… they seem to mean something very different to different people.

Other people have a similar name to mine, and yet I’m not too fond of answering to some of the nicknames that they love. (And I’m guessing they might feel the same about the “Bob” and “Bobby” that I find welcoming and personable as options for them. Again… anyway…)

One of my sisters once called Travis by the name of Meatloaf… which kind of fit. Monster was the nickname he usually got.

Funny thing though… names.

One night at work, Terry and I were talking about the youngster, and someone expressed admiration that we would name our puppy after our favorite country music star, Randy Travis. And… sure… of course… well… wait…


Nothing against Randy Travis or his music, but even though we were familiar with his name neither of us could tell you a single song he sang.

(Ok… admission time… as I type this, I keep staggering through the lyrics of a song. I don’t have it right, and I know I’m way off, but a quick internet search seems to find that “Forever and Ever, Amen” isn’t completely foreign to me. And sure, I can hear his deep, very country-music-authentic voice.)

The strange thing is, I never began this essay with the thoughts of how Travis got his name. Instead, it was one of those funny “why is the sky blue?” moments. You get the idea… why is the color green called green and not wristwatch… where did language and speaking and communicating come from?

Sure… I’ve seen history and research… such as developing alphabets, and connections to a symbol for a bull or a shepherd’s hook and so on. But that’s not really what I mean. I’m not looking for the roots of the word, a use in a sentence, or the perfect pronunciation.

It’s much more general and very fundamental.

Why is a tree known as a tree?

It’s around 1983. Could have been a year earlier or later. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, for reasons that we don’t need to cover now, I am in Arkansas. I am part of a large group.

One night, while walking from dinner back to the hotel, a friend of mine and I spot something on the ground. (Hi Todd!)

For the sake of description and creating imagery, picture an old pair of roller skates. And on the front of the skate, there used to be a brake of sorts… I think the actual term for it is a toe stop. Anyway… round… hole in the middle… perhaps an inch for the basic size… rubber or such. You get the idea.

As Todd and I skipped it and kicked it down the sidewalk with us, Mr. Skuce saw us and promptly joined in.

“Look at that, it’s one of those things!” he said.

“Those things?” we asked.

“Sure. You got yourself a whatchamacallit there.”

“Oh right! One of those things.”

Fast forward five or so years. I’m sitting with some friends watching television. And the remote control was called the boofer. (You know… because you change the channels with it… boof * boof * boof… see?)

Now we never pushed the term whatchamacallit or doohickey or oneofthosethings very far. And yes, I still ask if anyone knows where the boofer is while I’m searching bookshelves and sofa cushions. The thing is… the general concept of these ideas falls in line with the name thing. Boofer caught on and stuck with me. Oneofthosethings may not have stuck with me in frequent use, but when I hear that term, or whatchamacallit, I remember a bus ride one summer to Arkansas. (And now, roughly twenty years later, I can smile about it.)

And, somewhat likewise, at some point there was a conversation, on whatever level, where in an effort to communicate, there was a label… a sound… a name given to a rock, and another to the sky, and so on.

It’s nice that people want to debate the development of a word like orange… say whether the fruit or the color was referenced first (most history seems to suggest the fruit of the orange tree got the name first by two hundred or so years… and that for location, the place “Orange” actually has references further back)… but we digress. That isn’t the idea. Instead…

Why is the sky blue?

Why is water wet?

And why are my puppies named Lady, Travis, Molly and Gus?

If you have the time and want to look around, you’ll find something very funny about Randy Travis as it relates to this essay. (Although… given his history in the past couple of years, you’ll also find some really funny stuff about him that has nothing to do with this essay.)

See… Travis… that’s not his name.

His actual name is Randy Traywick.

But does it matter? I mean… what’s in a name?

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com