Will J. J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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Friends and Siblings

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Several weeks ago, a close friendship crumbled in my life. It devastated me, and it’s taken quite a bit of time for me to reach any level of normalcy since then. In the time following the collapse, I detailed the situation to several of my friends, and one of them asked me something that really got me thinking.

“Are you an only child?”, he asked me. Why would that matter, I wondered.

“Yes,” I responded, hesitantly.

“I thought so.” As my friend explained to me, he had a theory that siblings and friends are linked. If you grew up with siblings, you may have grown up with strong, family ties, such that you consider friends less permanent and the bonds less binding. If you grew up an only child, you may consider your friends to be your family, and fight harder for those friendships, because you didn’t have siblings to bond with.

This theory really resonated with me, despite being overly-simplistic. It’s a connection I had never considered before, and it rings true, at least for me. I grew up an only child. I didn’t have any siblings until I was almost a teenager, and even then, there were none that I saw on a regular basis. The closest other relatives I had were my two cousins, that I saw on school breaks every few months. I’ve always fought for my friendships above all else, often to the bitter end and my own detriment, because I do consider my close friends to be my family. I’ve been willing to go above and beyond, and it simply hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve considered them my surrogate brothers and sisters all these years. I can’t be certain that I would value or fight for my friendships less if I’d had siblings growing up, but I also can’t deny that I value my friends higher than almost anything else.

None of this is to say that all siblings are close, or that strong families lead to weaker friendships, because those are clearly not true. I think the point my friend was driving at is simply the nature of familial bonds. For some, those bonds are formed in the household, while for others, they must be built in alternate ways, and those bonds can shape peoples’ perspectives on their relationships.

What do you guys think? Does being an only child make you more likely to value friendships highly?  I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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Why I Didn’t Change My Last Name

 

Day 3055

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            I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my name for many years. It seems to represent both me and my antithesis, and I’ve always had mixed feelings about it. For a couple of years after I entered college, I highly considered changing my name, but eventually I decided against it. Why did I want to change my name?

            First off, my name is William Johnson, which is one of the most common names in the entire country. There are nearly 27,000 people in the U.S. with the name William Johnson. Not exactly unique. Throughout school, it wasn’t uncommon to find other people in my classes with my same name, and I was oft envious of people with more rare titles, even those that were especially difficult to pronounce and spell. I frequently received messages and calls intended for OTHER William Johnsons. Not that I had the most common name of all, but I longed for something that suited me better.

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            Until I was 12, I always went by William, but in that fateful year, I switched over to Will. William had always felt overly formal to me, and Will seemed a far superior alternative. It’s incredible what dropping those three letters from my everyday name did for my character. I loved that the word “will” fulfilled so many different parts of speech, and I felt especially blessed that the name I had chosen could represent the power to choose one’s actions, against all forces. In that sense, becoming Will meant that I now held a great responsibility to live up to my name.

            I would never think of changing my first name, and it was Johnson that I sought to find a replacement for. You see, in addition to Johnson being one of the most common last names in the U.S., I also used to carry a personal aversion for the title. After my father and I parted ways, I had no contact with any of my father’s side of the family for many years. Every member of my close family has either my mother’s maiden name, Camarillo, or my stepfather’s last name, Holthus. While Johnson is one of the most prevalent last names around, I felt like somewhat of an alien within my own family, because I was the only Johnson. Additionally, because of the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding my estrangement from my father, I was heavily motivated to separate myself from him as much as possible.

            By the time I entered college, I found myself brainstorming different potential last names anytime I had the chance. I asked my friends and family for their help in coming up with a new title that reflected more who I was. For a couple of months, I considered taking my mother’s maiden name. Then, about two years ago, a friend even helped me put a video on youtube where I requested ideas from anyone and everyone. I received a staggering number of responses, a number of which I was very liked quite a bit. Truth be told, I almost did change Johnson to something far different, and I probably would have, if not for the sage comments of an old friend.

            I had posted the video on facebook, trying to expand the brainstorm, and one man took notice. This was a person I had known quite well in high school but had hardly talked to since our graduation, and I certainly did not expect him to write something so affecting. I owe him a great thanks, because it forever changed my perspective. He wrote that while Johnson was a very common name and while I could change it to anything, he had come to associate the name Will Johnson with someone kind, perseverant, and extraordinary. While the name itself was average, and while he supported me in whatever decision I made, he encouraged me to keep my birth name and redefine that name in the world’s eyes. I found this message astoundingly profound, and it was an angle I had never considered.  He was right, and I am deeply thankful that he took the time to share his thoughts with me. I am a 5’11”, thin, white dude with the name William Johnson. It doesn’t get much more average than that, but those are the only average things about me, and I delight in drawing the amazing out of the typical, even in myself.

            Recently, my naming dilemma returned to me, as I prepared to publish my book and had to decide what my pen name would be. I tossed around a ton of possibilities in my mind. What I eventually concluded was that I had to retain the Will, because that is the most powerful part of my name. That ruled out ideas like “W.J. Johnson”. Furthermore, I have always personally liked author names with initials, like J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or E.E. Cummings. Finally, it occurred to me that of all the author names I had ever known, every one had relied on the last name as the identifier. Why not be identified by first name? I thought it was a cool idea, so I ran with it 🙂 Will J.J. The name is a symbol of my will but also everything that represents, particularly the journey to see beyond the normal.