I was probably around nine years old and a couple of years into my first pony; summers were spent exploring the hills and coulees around our farms. My cousins and I pooled our pop bottle money on cap gun “ammo” and, out in the sage and the brush, we’d reenact days of old: The Pony Express, coming through! Oh no, an Indian Ambush! Settlers crossing the plains. A stagecoach robbery! You see, the four of us had our own horses and acres and acres of land on which to carry out our adventures. We’d ride most of our days and when we came in, stinking of ponies and sweat, our mothers would pour us glasses of Tang, make us a bit of lunch and send us right back out again.
It was around this time that I became aware of the fact that my parents had another name for me. You see, as a child born in the ’60s, no one knew the sex of a baby before baby arrived. It stood to reason that parents picked out a few names, just in case. (As the youngest of five, Nana suggested the name “Caboose” to my parents, to which they just laughed.) My cousin proudly revealed that her name would have been Jeffrey Jarl, after her Dad, Jarl D.
Jeffrey Jarl = JJ. Way. Cool. And – the same name as her pony at the time-what were the chances?
Well, I simply had to know. I pestered Mom until she finally revealed my boy name would have been Willard John.
After Grandpa Willard, my Mom’s father. That was reasonable, I supposed. Grandpa Willard was kind to me and lots of fun but Willard John? Remember my best friend and cousin, Debbie, was now JJ. JJ can’t be wrangling rustlers with Willard John at the OK Corral! To me, a girl sporting tangled braids and a short list of fears, the name evoked the image of an older man living in a stuffy building with bad pipes and lots of cats.
Twisting the name around in my head and unleashing my imagination, I soon realized that Willard could be shortened to Bill or Billy. And everyone knew that Jack is just another name for John. And there it was: Billy Jack. Oh yeah …
Billy Jack fit my “girls can do anything” swagger at the time. I liked the fact that he was as a hero in his town, taking on bad guys, righting the wrongs and looking fab while doing it.
JJ and Billy Jack had an awful lot of adventures that summer, and for many others that followed.
Are you aware of your alternate name? Have you ever imagined yourself as someone else?