I have always entertained two notions about the origin of my common name, Mark. The first, that I was named after my mother, Margaret, and the second, that because my family is Catholic, I was named after the first Gospel writer, St. Mark. My second notion was more on the mark than my first.
While my mother Margaret did die giving birth to me, my father later told me that my name was not chosen to honor her.
“Fair enough,” I said, “because Margarito would have been a better choice.”
“I would have never given you such a name,” Dad said.
My father did admit that being Catholic played a part in my naming. All of my forbears practiced some form of Roman or Greek Catholic religion. Even when my father remarried, he married a Ukrainian Catholic. In my family, a Catholic without a Catholic saint’s name would have been a violation of canon 761 in the Church’s 1917 Code. Okay, so while my name might be grounded in legal precedent, I have never felt very close to my Gospel-writing namesake. We share an interest in storytelling, but such a common interest strikes me as an unremarkable coincidence.
Pressing my father for more information about my naming, Dad told me that not much thought went into choosing Mark at all. He and my mother simply liked the name. This struck me as terribly anticlimactic, considering all the thought I’d put into why I might be Mark. After a brief search of various baby name websites, it turns out that Mark enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1950s and remained a top-ten boomer name until 1970. I don’t know why I refused to imagine my parents simply feeling the groove of their era and hopping on the Mark train, but they did.
The early 20th century rareness and midcentury trendiness of Mark explains how disconcerting I found the name as a youth. While I might on occasion have met another Mark, these Marks were always about my age. Try as I might, I could never find any elder Marks. By this I mean Marks over the age of 30 who were not—like the Gospel writer, the Roman general, or the Polo player—dead. Didn’t Marks survive into old age? It was scary. I could find no living examples. I do feel better now that I and several other Marks have reached our latter years. In this way, I suppose you could say we were the first to market.
My only real complaint has not been with the name itself, but with other people’s lack of creativity surrounding it. In recent years, I have made the acquaintance of a few Marcs with a c. But why not Marq with a q; Marg with a hard g; or, if you want to get cute, Marj with a j. While Marcus and Markoosh have possibilities, don’t even talk to me about Markey Mark. Any mother or sister can add an “ey,” “ie,” or just “y” to a boy’s name—Frank, Will, Joe—and get the same emasculating effect. Should I be praising the Mark who re-appropriates Markey as a badass symbol of cool? How much harder would it have been to put up the full Marquee?
While some Mark makers don’t mind adding or changing a letter here or there, rarely do Mark callers ever exploit the inherent treasure of punning possibilities that Mark offers. Few who address me, for instance, ever ask me to “Mark their words” or “get on my Mark, get set, and go.” Considering the extent of my collection, I can’t recall the last time that someone asked me to “borrow that book, Mark?” And where was the inventiveness that day in Paris when I stood on the subway platform with the pocket of my cargo shorts wide open and that gang of thieves lifted my wallet. Did the people on the platform really expect me to be the one to say it? Okay then, I’ll say it, “I make a good Mark.”
I guess most people know it’s not true. I’ve never made a good Mark. In fact, the most I have ever thought about my name is in writing this piece. I can go days without even hearing my name until it shows up on an envelope, postmarked. Those in my family are more likely to call me “hey,” “hon,” or “Dad.” My Mark-self shows up most frequently when people are getting to know me, and I imagine, when they are trying hard to forget that I ever made any impression at all.