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Like father, like son: We shortened our names

Rick Wagner • Feb 10, 2020 at 10:00 PM

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.

For my older son and me, you could say letters simply fall off the end of our names. (Whether I’m a nut or not would be fodder for another column, maybe even a book, but my coworkers could fill you in on that in short order, I’m sure.)

In another episode of “De Ja Vu All Over Again,” with due apologies to the late Yogi Berra and his heirs, my son Jonathan Wagner now goes by Jon Wagner, just as I changed from Ricky Wagner to Rick Wagner in my younger days. And just as I was after high school, he is a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

That may not be a huge news item internationally, but I’m still having problems getting used to the name thing. I’ve called him Jonathan since he was born.

HOW’D WE GET NAMES?

First, a little background: His mother and I talked about naming my older son after his maternal grandfather, but my mother said the name Kenneth Wagner surely would mean he’d go by Kenny or Kennie Wagner, the name of a famous outlaw, convicted murderer and cousin from Scott County, Va. Kennie died in 1958, and my father and grandfather attended his funeral in Scott County and knew him. They saw him on the run from prison as well as when he was a trusty who visited Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in a Mississippi prison car. (His full name was William Kenneth Wagner.)

Anyway, one of my great-grandfathers was William Jackson “Pappy” Wagner, and my Dad was William “Bill” Esker Wagner. My legal name is William Ricky Wagner, and my older son’s is Jonathan William Wagner. So how, do you ask, did I become Rick Wagner? The same way Jonathan became Jon: We shortened our names as we got older. My younger son, Creed (Creed Jackson Wagner, with a middle name from Pappy) probably won’t do that since I don’t know if Cre would work out. But I suppose Jack could be short for Jackson.

I never went by William or Bill. I went by Ricky until about seventh grade. But folks I know well used to say I became Ricky again when I went back to visit relatives in Hawkins County, where some still call me by that name. A work colleague at my prior journalism job once suggested I go by “Billy Rick.” I declined.

Also, my mother always swore I wasn’t named after the Ricky Ricardo character played by Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy.” However, I always had my suspicions about that. After all, there were three Ricks on half of the third floor of my dorm in college my freshman year.

WHAT’S MORE BACKGROUND?

Jonathan, err I mean Jon, is in an off-campus apartment in South Knoxville, and got to be a sophomore at UT after a year at Middle Tennessee State University. But he shortened his name, just like me, although he waited until mid-college rather than before high school.

Or did he? His broadcasting teacher at Dobyns-Bennett High School (I went to Volunteer High), Joe “Mr. Mac” McMakin, used to call him Jon all the time. You could say that name finally stuck, and so did the broadcasting, sort of. My older son, who got put in broadcasting because he couldn’t get in another class, liked it so much he took it every year of high school and is seeking a hybrid degree of sorts in video and film studies and hopes to work in movies or television.

I didn’t pick a major until I was at the end of my sophomore year, although I started journalism classes that year.

But just think of things this way: A cameraman/videographer/film editor named Jon Wagner and a reporter/journalist/columnist named Rick Wagner just sounds and look right with those short names, don’t they? If my cousin, Kennie, had gone into journalism or film, maybe he would have been remembered as Ken Wagner like the famous documentary maker Ken Burns.

Finally, my late father would be fine with Jon Wagner. He had an uncle, educator John Wagner, subject of two recent columns, and Dad wouldn’t have had a bit of a problem with another one in the family, albeit phonetically. One other thing: We both were in high school band. Go figure.

QUIZ: Where did Rick (Ricky) Wagner and his older son, Jon (Jonathan), graduate from high school?

BONUS QUESTION: What is local broadcasting teacher Joe McMakin’s nickname? (Hint: It is not J.) 

Rick Wagner is the Times News education writer. Email him at [email protected]

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