Me with my Jewish baby, late summer 1993

What to Suspect When You’re Expecting

(How He Came to be Named Max)

Joyce and I made our oldest son’s name a work project, practically. It was the FIRST CHILD. It had to be perfect: not too old-fashioned. Maybe named after a family member, but modified if too odd (like my middle name, Lloyd).

So we came up with Tyler for a boy. The girl name had been locked in at Justine Celeste, though our doctor slipped during a sonogram and called the baby “him.”

Tyler was very popular in the 1980s, and yet rang of history. I didn’t have an ancestor named that, but loved genealogy and Tyler Mallory belonged with our classic ancestors, Henry Clay Mallory (best friend of Andrew Jackson Dowdy) and Grover Cleveland Mallory.

Then, six months before our oldest son was born, my brother and his wife had their son, and named him Tyler Mallory.

Our first child couldn’t be a facsimile, or a re-run!

We thought about backups: Ross. Justin. Nothing felt right. We knew his saint name would be John-Mark, as that was the saint name I chose for my conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. Finally it occurred to us like a flash: why not name him John-Mark? It wasn’t the current Pope (John-Paul II) and would be different than all the other little boys we knew. John-Mark was also the patron saint of writers, a fact both of us writers liked.

(Yes, I’m getting to how Max was named Max. It did start back then.) We loved this clever John-Mark name, and never gave a thought to negativity until John-Mark came home from kindergarten, crying. All the kids in his class could write their names but he hadn’t mastered it yet. He had EIGHT letters AND a hyphen.

Max was a pleasant surprise. Joyce was pregnant seven years after John-Mark, and we’d lived through a miscarriage in between. We were trying, but had no idea we would get pregnant. This time, though, we weren’t as hardcore on a name. Sure, we wanted a good name. But it’s the “second kid syndrome” — you have more pictures, more outfits, more everything with the first kid, and the second kid gets shorted.

We tossed around a bunch of ideas. I’d thought of Peter, because I wanted that to be our second son’s saint name. Peter (as in the apostle) was a leader and John-Mark was his secretary of sorts back in biblical days. It only made sense to have a John-Mark and Peter together.

But Peter was dangerous territory. Growing up in the lower Midwest, a boy named Peter would be called “penis” by mouthy little boys. I knew to avoid that, along with Richard (Dick!) and Rodney (Rod!). Especially the combo: Harry Richard.

On a whim, we asked John-Mark, “What do you think we should name the baby?” We knew it was a boy.

“Max,” John-Mark said easily.

We laughed. Why that?

“Max was the first kid in my class who could write his own name,” John-Mark replied casually. “He only had three letters, and they’re all easy to write.”

I recalled this was Max Zollicker, whom I only knew as another little blond kid in my son’s kindergarten class but who had the cool distinction of having both an X and a Z in his name.

We never thought of a name like that, but it rolled off the tongue: Max Mallory. Very cool.

Peter could be his middle name. For us baby boomers, Max Peter was a little off, since Peter Max was a much more common combination. But Max Peter it would be.

“Don’t name him that!” my 15-year-old nephew Tommy said. “That’s bad luck!”

Why? I asked.

“People with ‘X’ in their name have tragedy — Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Jimi Hendrix…”

“That’s stupid,” I told him. Turned out, he was right.

The funniest reaction was from my mother-in-law. She had seemed displeased and finally I said, “Do you not like the name we picked for him? ‘Max Mallory’ — it really has an alliterative ring to it.”

(I used to talk all smart-ass like that.)

“Well,” she finally said reluctantly, “people will think we’re Jewish!”

I was the uneducated one. I hadn’t realized “Max” was more commonly a Jewish name.

Dorothy wasn’t prejudiced. But she’d had her share of hard knocks, being a divorced woman when it wasn’t acceptable, being a working woman when her peers were housewives or retired. Born in New York City, she’d lived in LA and Chicago — America’s three toughest cities. She had to think about what other people thought. She was of the older generation and this was Kansas City.

A lot of people have laughed at that anecdote, even my Jewish friends.

Max Mallory it remained, no one asked him if he was Jewish. Many people told him it was a cool name. I still love it, as I did him.

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