My name is Henricus Gerardus Decock, at least according to my birth certificate. Those who know me are raising an eyebrow; those reading the “About” page are confused, understandably. I seldom refer to myself in that manner. According to the website, behindthename.com , “Henricus is the Latinized form of Heinrich. As a Dutch name, it is used on birth certificates though a vernacular form such as [Henry] is typically used in daily life.” Try explaining the distinction to an officious organization like the World Bank or an American border guard at the airport. Neither were amused with my usual quip, “only my wife calls me Henricus, and only when she is angry”. The joke did not engender even the slightest smile.
I am named after my two grandfathers: Henricus on my mother’s side, Gerardus on my father’s. Not a surprising choice but also very unimaginative. My birth occurred 360 days after my older brother, Gerardus Henricus. We are Catholic twins with reversible names. Peter Cornelis (spelt incorrectly) came into the world thirteen months later burdening my mother with three kids under the age of three.
Peter was named after our father although I don’t recall anyone referring to him as junior; certainly the moniker did not stick. He might have qualified as the third of a triplet except there are two issues with his birth certificate. First, his given name needed to be Petrus to be consistent with the Latin versions of myself and Gerardus; and most importantly, his surname is different: De Cock instead of Decock.
We have developed our own theory on this curiosity. Our mother was the parent who completed the birth registration for Gary and myself. In her attempt to assimilate, she anglicized the spelling. Our father, for some unknown reason, was responsible for Peter’s documentation and simply kept everything status quo. Mom would always sign her surname Decock while Dad consistently wrote De Cock. I employ what is written on my birth certificate as does Peter.
Michael came along four years later and was named after… no one. Breaking with tradition, my parents decided to select a name they both liked. The rest of us might have questioned his relationship to the family except his middle name is after the oldest living brother of my mother, Herman; and there are pictures of him as a baby.
When Gary was young, he had difficulty pronouncing Henry. His effort resulted in Hi-yo (phonetic spelling) which he said with such frequency all the other children in the neighbourhood did the same. Their parents would talk to my mother, asking about Gary, Hi-yo and Peter. Eventually Henry became the norm.
I have had people preferring the French version, Henri, and I can count on one hand the people who call me Hank. The first was our mechanic in London, the man with no front teeth and an infectious laugh. Then there was Ann and Carol both in the registration office at work, each of the rough and tumble kind. And finally there is my best friend, Ron, from whom I hear Hammerin’ Hank from time to time, reflecting our love of baseball.
Regardless, all my credit cards, employment records, school records, email accounts, and virtually everything else identifies me as Henry Decock, which brings us back to the beginning of this post.
Shortly after 9-11, I was travelling to the United States for a conference. The airline ticket was purchased bearing the name Henry Decock. Passing through customs the ever serious American border guard looked at the ticket, then at my passport, up at me, then back to the passport before saying, “The names don’t match.” I proceeded to explain while he pecked away on the computer, sideways glancing every fifteen seconds. I had never had an issue before. The ongoing delay was making me nervous until he finally stamped my passport and waved me along. Welcome to America. Forthwith all my airline tickets are bought for Henricus Gerardus Decock.
Most recently, I have been in a vigorous tug-of-war with the IT people at the World Bank. I began working for the organization as a higher education consultant which required my passport as identification. So, I am Henricus Gerardus in their system. In order to get paid, I submitted a voided cheque and instructions on how to transfer the funds to my bank account to the IT department. All good except, “The names don’t match.” I wrote a lengthy email explaining how the bank uses my passport and drivers licence as proof of my identity for an account in the name of Henry Decock. The issue was passed up to HR with whom I went further showing how every card, ownership, email, work record and pension are all issued to a Henry Decock. HR referred the matter back to IT who responded, “The names don’t match.” I escalated the problem to my immediate supervisor who was sympathetic, apologized for the bureaucracy, admitted my particular case was unusual, and suggested I petition the bank to verify my identity. Back to the bank who would not guarantee any external funds bearing Henricus Gerardus would be accepted into the account for Henry Decock for fear of money laundering. I cried Uncle, relented and allowed to have my account name changed, over the phone. I notified IT. Hopefully I will get paid now.
Henricus, Henry, Henri, Hank, or Hi-yo are all fine with me, as long as the cheque doesn’t bounce.