My middle name is Lynn. For a long time I admitted that with the same resignation and regret that a person felt when beginning an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting– “I am an alcoholic.” For whatever reason some of us grow up not liking the names our parents gave us. In my case it is because the name is sexually ambiguous. Boys often find that a challenge. Gary is not; it comes from the Germanic word for a spearman. Chapman is as manly as they come. But a lynn is a woodland valley, and more women than men carry it as their name.
I have known several men whose first name was Lynn, who used it with no more obvious self-consciousness than a Ralph or a Horace. That is, they got used to it. They knew who they were, and there was no ambiguity to that, at least no more or less than anyone else felt. And if orientation were the issue, those friends of mine who were named Rick, Doug, Bob, Peg, Mark, Carol had to wrestle with that more, and their names had nothing to do with it. They came out finally and knew who they were, a realization that their names neither helped nor hindered.
Through the years I have used my middle initial “L” to differentiate me from the other Gary Chapmans who pop up, as a draft resister in Toronto, on the FBI’s wanted list; as a singer-composer of Christian music, married to a more famous partner; as a lecturer and writer on marriage and the family. Then someone always asks, what does the “L” stand for?
As a youth I hesitated to say, so my Scout friends made up an answer. So I had the nickname “Lindsey” for a while– they didn’t know how close they came– but I might as well have said “Lynn” proudly. Jewish friends called me “Gershon Levi” because “Gary” is often the nickname for the Hebrew name Gershon, which means “convert” after all, and they knew I was a minister from a Coen family, hence “Levi.” Levi sounded good to me; after all I often wore a pair of them.
The Women’s Movement developed and with it the recognition of androgyny– men and women have more in common than in difference, including essential human rights. An androgynous name, like, say, “Lynn,” made more sense. My parents were simply ahead of their time, as they named their sons with ambiguous middle names. Still I knew the reality was that they were hoping for girls, more each time they had a baby, until they gave up. After all, I had to admit that I was happier with Lynn than with the names Laverle or Carrol, that my brothers had, or the Connie or Jan or Joyce that other guys have had.
Lately I have been thinking about willows and meadows and woodland valleys, and summer ahead, thinking Lynn is not so bad, a lovely place really, a good name for a sensitive man who enjoys children and the natural world, who identifies with women as well as men in their aspirations for freedom.
My middle name is Lynn. It is a little part of who I am. Other things I hope stand out more. If anyone needs to know you can tell them. But you can call me Gary…or Mister…or Doctor…first…if you don’t mind.