Friday, June 29, 2012


Johnny Cash famously began each of his live performances by introducing himself.  "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," he would say, just in case people had forgotten what they had bought tickets to and were expecting Lawrence Welk instead. I could never have done that.  I have lived in fear of my name for all of my life.

According to Facebook, I am the only "Seward Totty" among its hundreds of millions of registered users.  Even better, lists me as the only Seward Totty in the United States.  I'd venture that I am most likely the only Seward Totty in the whole world. 

This is not to be confused with the pep talk your parents gave you when you were little.  "Johnny, you're special.  You are the only you there is. There is no one in the world quite like you," they would say, hoping to instill a sense of self-worth.  In my case however, it literally is true.  Not only am I–as both my friends and detractors will attest–one of a kind, I also have a one-off name.

Now, most people would think that this is a pretty great thing, but I have spent my whole life correcting, spelling, and enunciating my name for people. Not just my first name, either.  To try to make light of my plight, I once came up with a catchy little phrase to try to help people out.  "Sewer with a D and Potty with a T," I'd say. Eventually, I realized that this catchphrase wasn't really helping me get where I was trying to go so I dropped it.  Self-deprecation will only get you so far.

I get called "Stewart" more than anything.  When I was younger I was too timid too correct anyone (and that's EVERYONE, folks) who got my name wrong.  I didn't want to embarass them.  I had a teacher who called me "Stewart" for half a year.  When I turned in papers and assignments, I would write my name like this:

Seward Totty

in the hope that he would discover his error without me having to actually point it out to him. No dice.  I guess one of my classmates eventually helped me out because one day he got it right.

Deward.  Thanks a heap.

My last name is a challenge, too.  Everyone thinks it is spelled with Ds instead of Ts.  I go to great lengths to enunciate the Ts when introducing myself.  I sound like a nitwit when I say it because I pronounce it as if I were the Duke of Edinburgh.  Not too many years ago, my wife Googled herself.  The hits she got included a bunch of British porn sites.  She called me in a panic.  "Seward," she cried, "someone has stolen my name and it is being used on a bunch of English porn sites!"  After spending hours and hours and hours on these sites investigating her claim, I called a ruddy blighter who lives in my neighborhood and asked him if "Totty" had any special meaning in the British lexicon.
"Why, yes it does old chap.  Your last name has been a neverending source of amusement for me from the day I met you.  I assumed you knew. You don't?"
(If you want to Google it, go ahead.  I am not going to help you make fun of me.)

People can't even get my nickname right.  First of all, I got this lame nickname in college.  "Sewdog."  When your name doesn't easily lend itself to something more original, they just slap you with a "-dog" at the end of your name and are done with it. Well, one year, we all decided that we were going to put our nicknames on the fraternity composite.  The morons at the photography studio couldn't read my handwriting (and if you have ever seen my handwriting you would think me an architect–my penmanship is top notch) and when the composite came back to be hung on the wall, I had a new nickname: SENDOG. Sigh.

There is upside to having a unique name, though.  I don't have to worry too much about my credit score being impacted by the financial missteps of anyone else named Seward Totty. Anyone using the internet can find me in about three seconds. As much of a challenge as my name is, at least I don't have one of those names that lends itself too easily to juvenile humor. You know that somewhere in America, someone whose last name is Peeper got named Richard by his parents.

Really Mom and Dad?
And there he is. Oy!

Once someone meets me and finally gets my name right, they tend to remember who I am.  That can be a years-long process, however.  I have friends that I have had for twenty years or more occasionally call me "Stewart."  If only they understood how deflating that is.  If you want to bring someone down a few pegs, just get his/her name wrong.  "Hi Stewart" to me sounds like "Hi person-of-absolutely-no-importance."

I have lived with my name for almost fifty years now.  Honestly, I wouldn't trade it for any other name on the planet, despite the challenges that go with having it. I wear it proudly, even if I do have to visit with Stuart Smalley every once in awhile for some self-affirmation.

I did name my sons Jack and Alex, however.