Once upon a time, there lived a man named Piddly-Poo, but before that, he was a boy named Piddly-Poo, and that was no fun, either. His peers were every bit as cruel as you’d expect, and his teachers tried to find a suitable nickname for him, but try as they might – Piddle, Poo, P.P. – they only made things harder for him. His best friend, Jacob, called him Pid, and when he grew up, this was the name he introduced himself by, but the truth always came out in the end, at which point, he was castigated for his own shame.
“I mean, if your name is Piddly-Poo, you should just own it,” said a disgusted barista in one such circumstance, seeing his credit card after having written “Pid” on the cardboard cup. Pid ran out of the Starbucks crying and never drank coffee again.
He couldn’t afford it anyway, as he couldn’t get any sort of well-paying job with his name. He worked as a maintenance man, and he had to wear overalls with “Piddly-Poo” embroidered above his left pec. The old ladies in his building gave him the stink eye. They thought it was some sort of fresh joke.
He had an online dating profile, in which he called himself P. McAllister, and he got a few dates this way, but at some point in the relationship, the woman would find out, and Pid could see the interest slide off their faces, as if they had become suddenly fatigued or mournful. He wished he could find a woman named, say, Tinkly-Bittles, but deep down, he knew he wouldn’t want to be with a woman with a stupid name.
One day, Pid was moaning to his friend Jacob about how his name had ruined his entire life and damned all options before he’d even had the chance to make his own mistakes, and Jacob said, “Why don’t you just have your name changed? I don’t think it’s really that complicated.”
Pid had never thought of doing that before.
It was weird that he hadn’t, but it never occurred to him. He’d just collapsed under his name and let it smother him as if he had no choice in the matter at all.
So, he changed his name to “Paul.” “Paul McAllister.” Jacob was right – it wasn’t very hard. In fact, it was insultingly easy after all the pain and trouble Pid – Paul – had been through. He should have done it years ago.
He found, however, that his life did not steadily improve under his new moniker the way he’d hoped it would. He still had a shitty job. People were still dismissive of him. He still had trouble with women. And beyond all that, he felt weirdly lost. He no longer had a very clearly defined enemy.
On the one-year anniversary of his new name, Paul walked through a park near his house, down to a little river, where he liked to sit and think. He realized there was really no one in the world he could talk to about his problems, and he wished that a fish would come, or a squirrel, or some sort of being that he could address. But none did, so he took a little rock from nearby and settled it in his lap.
“The thing is,” he said to the rock. “I’ve always been Piddly-Poo. Much as I hate it, I don’t know how to be a man without a stupid name. I don’t know who I am now. I don’t know what to do.”
The rock just sat there, though. As it happened, the rock’s name was Larry, but Paul was too self-absorbed to even ask.