You Can Call Me Al (or not)


My CCIE plaque arrived today.  I’m happy that it weighed more than my usual certificates, as it can now be a handy weapon to wield when salesmen intrude on my solitude of studying:

Purdy, Ain't It?

There was one thing that did seem to generate some discussion, though.  Yes, my plaque says “Alfred” because my legal first name is indeed Alfred.  It’s a fun story.

I am the first male grandchild born to my both sides of my family.  Therefore, it is my responsibility to carry on the family name and legacy.  My mother and father had already agreed to name me after my grandfathers.  My paternal grandfather was named Alfred.  My maternal grandfather was named Tommy, so they decided on Thomas.  Right up to the point where my mom went into labor they both knew what my name was going to be.  Or so they thought.

I was a particularly difficult child, even before I was born.  20-some-odd hours of labor and an emergency C-section later, and Mom found herself sitting in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  When the nurses presented my father with the birth certificate, he filled it out according to what he thought was going to be the correct name.  They had discussed the names, but not the order.  Naturally, my father picked his dad’s name as my first name (Alfred) and put Thomas as my middle name.  In Mississippi (where I was born), the practice at that time was to file the birth certificate with the state and provide a stamped copy to the parents as the official birth certificate.  So three days later when Mom finally came around, she was presented with a new baby boy and a Xeroxed copy of the birth certificate proudly proclaiming me as Alfred Thomas Hollingsworth.  To which she replied, “He named our son WHAT?!?!”  The nurse jumped back and assured my mother that since she pushed me out, she could name me whatever she wanted.  My mother politely declined, knowing that she would later name my brother something normal, like John.  I’ve gone by Tom most of my life.  The only time I heard Alfred as a boy was when I was in trouble.  The only time I hear it now is when the government or a telemarketer calls my house.  But it always seems to be a great source of fun when people find out my “real name”.

There’s a moral in this for IT people as well.  Communication is very important, even on the little details.  My parents knew what two names they were going to use for me, but they forgot the important detail of what order to put them in.  When faced with a decision, my father chose what he thought was the logical order.  My mother had always assumed I would be Thomas Alfred, but never communicated that to my father.  And now when people try to verify my CCIE number, I constantly have to tell them to use Alfred as the verification name.  If you glaze over the details in any type of communication, you will invariably end up with results that aren’t quite what you expected, even if the majority of the project/trouble ticket/birth certificate is correct.  Then, being called “Al” is the least of your worries.

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