Being Tony

An existential exercise in the reality of the self


There it is again. The “C” word. In the process of booking a cruise for December, the glossy brochure arrived at our house last week with baggage tags, destination information and a warm personal letter to “Craig Wilson.” This of course, was a function of the form I completed when we booked the cruise, which had to match my passport information.

The form was just like all the other forms I’ve had to fill in over a lifetime of form-filling. It assumes I have a first name, middle initial and a last name, and like James T. Kirk, Maynard G. Krebs and John Q. Public, I should be able to complete the form without any difficulty, hesitation or considered thought. After all, it’s a name, not an exam. Unfortunately, although all forms follow this basic universal format, many names do not. I don’t go by my first name. My entire family went by their respective middle names for some inexplicable British reason. So do I – sort of.

No offence to other Craigs out there, but I despise my first name and always know it’s junk mail in the mailbox, spam on the computer, or a rabid telemarketer on the phone if the “C” word is used. Apparently, I was conceived in the Craigflower Hotel in Victoria, so the place had some fond memories for my parents. Go figure.

Anthony is my middle name, but like Robert’s, William’s and James’ the world over, the formal is shortened to the familiar. Robert becomes Bob. William is Bill. James is Jim. And Anthony is Tony. Hence, I’ve been called Tony all my life. But even though everyone calls me Tony, Tony is not my “legal” name.

So when I’m asked to fill in my legal name on a form, something that should be quite easy becomes a philosophical question on the nature of identity; an existential exercise in the reality of the self and the art of being. Should I be Tony, even though it’s not my legal name? Or should I be Craig A. Wilson because it fits nicely in the form? Or should I be Anthony C. Wilson, inverting the order of my names because that also fits nicely in the form and I get to avoid using the “C” word? Or should I annoy the data inputters and be C. Anthony (Tony) Wilson QC?

Being Tony creates its own set of dilemmas. One hazard of being Tony, is being Toni. My name is misspelled regularly enough to warrant a reminder that I’m actually a guy, and it’s spelled T-o-n-y not T-o-n-i. Adding insult to injury, I’m often asked if Wilson is spelled with one “l” or two. Good grief.

Another hazard is people mis-hearing Tony and calling me “Tommy,” as if I were eight years old and still in elementary school. Another hazard of being Tony is the inevitable rhyming that doesn’t seem to come with sensible names like David, Robert or William. I have learned to accept the fact that Tony-Baloney is funnier to some people than David-Baloney.

One annoying hazard of being Tony is the Italian factor. When I moved from the protected tweedy Anglo enclave of Oak Bay to Ontario in 1975 for university, the very mention of my name provoked mock Italian accents from virtually everyone I met. “Antonio,” they would say. Or more often: “Tony! Tony! Tony!” using the sort of exaggerated hand-gestures common to people pretending to be Italian. I would plead ignorance to the suggestion that because my name was Tony, I was by definition Italian. Coming from Victoria, the thought never occurred to me. All the Tony’s I had ever met until then were Anderson’s, Brigham’s and other Anglo’s (which, I suppose, says a lot about Victoria). So, despite loving all things Italian, being Italian wasn’t necessarily one of them.

It’s been a long time since Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of the UK. He may not have made the world safe from terror, war, class struggle or poverty, but he made the world far safer for Tony’s. He never formalized his name to Anthony (although he could have) and, thanks to him, being Tony in the English-speaking world doesn’t always mean that you are “Tony! Tony! Tony!”, Tony Soprano or Tony-Baloney.

Although there is more work to be done, Tony Blair will forever be the patron saint of Tony’s.

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