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June 04, 2014

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The Meaning of a Name

Many of the fathers in my family have been saddled with the deceptively simple, yet unusual, middle name of Hosler. It was my great grandfather’s last name, and though he blinked out of our scraggly family tree with an awkward Catholic divorce, the name lived on as the middle name of uncles, cousins and nephews. Most of the fathers in my family are Hoslers. My own father was William Hosler O’Brien. I am Daniel Hosler O’Brien. But I am not a father.

My family has no grand and esteemed genealogy. I am a garden variety American boy who knows almost nothing of lineage or legacy - nothing much in the way of ancestral knowledge beyond my own father who died young. For all I know the fathers that came before me might have sprung full grown from Midwestern soil. I never imagined that my middle name could have a history. For me it had no meaning at all, and I suppose that is not unusual. Only if you are saddled by a particularly odious first name would you care about your middle name. If your name is Clarence David or Ethel Marie you might opt for using your middle name. But if your first name is alright and your middle name is a little odd, you’re probably going to go with the first name. I didn’t think that Dan was bad, so I went with it. Dan O’Brien. Short and sweet.

There is nothing strange about opting for your first name, almost everyone does it. But here is the really strange part: I had no curiosity about my middle name. Didn’t know if it was English, Irish, German or Hawaiian. Had no idea if it had a meaning in its land of origin or if it was a just another name screwed up at Ellis Island.

Fact is, I have never been much of a family guy. When they passed out passions, hobbies, and obsessions I missed the ones for succession, family mythology and legends. What I got was a great love for all things wild and particularly, for all wild things with feathers. I am a lover of birds, I watch birds. I hunt birds. I eat birds. I dream about them. I had homing pigeons before I had a Teddy bear. But I’ve never had any children.

Luckily, I picked up a couple older step-children in my marriage to Jill. Lucas and Jilian have viewed me as their Father for fifteen years, and although it is not quite the same as fathering your own, it is close enough that I have had some pretty good Father’s Days. In fact, I’ve benefited from a lot of the perks of fatherhood. I’ve watched a lot of basketball games. I’ve done multiplication tables thousands of times. I’ve awoken reluctant students very early on frosty mornings. I’ve given scary driving lessons. I’ve sat through graduations and laid awake worrying about slippery roads. All those experiences were gifts that are usually reserved for fathers.

I sometimes feel like a thief for stealing those experiences. I have gathered a mountain of life’s good stuff for which my claim is shaky and I can’t help thinking that the legacy that is supposed to pass from father to children is tattered at best. The balance sheet of gifts given and gifts received has been tipped in my favor for years but this spring it came off the rails. Jilian and her husband, Colton Jones, had a baby boy. He is the first newborn I have been around. I’d never made stupid faces to an infant. Never read to a child. I had never held a baby for more than a few polite seconds until just last week when I got to hold Lincoln Hosler Jones.

Yep, my grandson’s middle name is Hosler. That pesky name lives on, and for the first time in my life it seems important. The passing on of that name aroused my latent curiosity and two days ago I mounted a short search to find out what our middle name means - what crazy alchemy has brought it through the generations to this tiny child that I am already bonded to.  Have I been a mere conduit for a name or do I have a part to play in what lies ahead? Our Hosler name seems to be an English occupational name, a variant of the name Osler. It is the name for a person who loves and hunts wild fowl. Birds! It is a legacy that I am qualified to give and I have already begun to gather children’s books about all things avian. I will read each one aloud. Lincoln Hosler Jones and I will search the woody draws for flashes of color and listen in the prairies grasses for the song of larks. This Father’s Day is going to be the best Father’s Day ever.


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