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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Changing My Name Late In Life: “Doug” to “Douglas”

I have a friend who in his late 50s (and for professional reasons) completely changed his name, both first and last.  This transformation caused some serious confusions for him, but he is now happy with his new name, and finds, I’m sure, a certain satisfaction in having chosen for himself the name by which he is identified in the world.  The rest of us have to live with (or battle or pervert) the name assigned to us without our consent by doubtless well-meaning parents.

My given name is “Douglas John Whaley” and I’ve always been happy with it.  The middle name of “John” is in honor of my paternal grandfather, John Alvin Whaley (and I carried on that tradition when my son was born by giving him the middle name of my father).

When I was a child almost no one called me “Douglas” with the sometimes exception of  my mother when annoyed with me, as in “Douglas John, come here at once!”  Everyone addressed me as “Doug” and that has continued until quite recently.  There was an occasional use of the much-hated “Dougie,” which causes me to snarl, teeth exposed, allowed only to a couple of very close female friends from whom I grudgingly accepted “Dougie” on rare occasions if said teasingly with loving affection.

However, about five years ago—probably after a drink or two---it occurred to me that I’ve never really liked being identified as “Doug.”  Considered as a word alone “Doug” has no music, no romance, to it.  It’s a rather abrupt noise, rhyming (as I’ve learned to my dismay since kindergarten) with a lot of ugly words like “bug, chug, drug, glug, lug, mug, pug, plug, slug, and thug.”

Saying “Doug” aloud to hear it’s timbre it suddenly struck me that “Doug”---particularly when intoned in a bass voice—sounds like the last thing a dying frog would gasp before falling off the lily pad.

“Douglas,” by happy comparison, is a fine old Scottish name, and my paternal grandmother (John”s wife) was Mary Frances Ferguson, truly of Scottish descent.  It is a name I can by rights claim.  “Douglas,” let’s all agree, has a particularly noble sound.  Some quite famous people have happily borne the name: Douglas Adams, Douglas Fairbanks, Douglas MacArthur, etc.  “Douglas” is easy to spell and pronounce, and, happily, there are not that many of us in the world.  If someone’s name is, for example, “David” or “Jose” or “Kevin” he is going to encounter identification snarls that a “Douglas” doesn’t usually face.  In a crowded public space like an airport if someone calls out “David” heads will turn all over the room.  But no one ever calls out “Douglas” and even the occasional “Doug” is quite rare as a summons.

Thus, starting in late 2012, I started introducing myself to new people as “Douglas” and all of those friends now call me that.  I met my husband in January of 2013 and he uses “Douglas” even though he now routinely hears my family and old friends call me “Doug.”  I cannot tell you how much that pleases me.  I love David Vargo for many reasons, but that’s certainly one of them.


Of course I don’t expect all the hundreds of people who already know me as “Doug” to suddenly switch to “Douglas.”  Old habits are hard to change, and why should they?  Some of them, hearing my little spiel about why I don’t much like “Doug” (always mentioning the dying frog) have kindly switched to using “Douglas,” and I thank them for that effort.  If you are one of my friends feel free, without obligation, to make the switch.

I am annoyed when total strangers to whom I’ve just given my name as “Douglas Whaley” instantly call me “Doug.”  How dare they presume I go by that nickname?  I don’t (I hope) show my annoyance, but it’s there inside me.  I wonder if “James” is sanguine about being called “Jim” by strangers, or “Robert” “Bob” or “Elizabeth” “Betty.”  If I were employed as an agent to talk to customers I'd never presume to shorten their name to the diminutive without at least checking first to make sure it would be welcome.

So, late in life, I’ve reclaimed my true name, the one my birth certificate.  It’s probably a strange thing to have done, but, what the hell, I feel really good about it.  Your Douglas has certainly done stranger things, as this blog attests. 


Have a good day, my reader, whatever you call yourself.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;  

“My Missing Grandmother,” December 26 2012;

“Naming Your Baby?  Some Mistakes to Avoid,” May 30, 2012;

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Must a Baker Create a Cake for a Gay Wedding? What Will the Supreme Court Likely Say?

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear this term the case of a Christian baker who violated Colorado’s non-discrimination law (which, among other things, forbids discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation) by refusing make a wedding cake for a gay wedding.  The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and it has generated furious debate.  Around 80 briefs arguing for both sides have been filed so far with the Court. The Trump administration caused much comment when it filed a brief backing the baker’s right to discriminate against gays.

Jack Phillips

The facts are clear.  The baker, Jack Phillips, is a devout Christian who has in the past refused to make cakes for various events that are in conflict with his deep faith: ones for Halloween, cakes with adult themes, cakes containing alcohol, etc.  His appearances on various shows like “The View”  [] make it clear that he’s a nice guy, proud of his craft, and very committed to his religion which believes that homosexual marriage is in violation of biblical precepts.  Mr. Phillips is perfectly willing to sell gay customers his other fare: cupcakes, cookies, etc., but balks at participating in an activity he believes is sinful.  Hence, goes the argument, he is not discriminating against gays, only against gay weddings.

The Gay Couple in the Case

How will this likely be decided by the Supreme Court (which will hear arguments this term and hand down a decision by the end of June)?  As is usual in controversial liberal/conservative cases everything turns on the opinion of one Justice: Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote between the four liberals and the four conservatives.  Justice Kennedy has been terrific in gay cases, including the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which gave gays the right to marry.  In fact Kennedy was the author of the majority opinions in the five major gay rights cases deciding by the Court in recent years.

[Justice Anthony Kennedy is seated second from the left]

In Obergefell Kennedy discussed religious objections to gay rights, and his language can be read to aid both sides in the new case:

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises . . . .  Many who adhere to these doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.  But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

So perhaps it looks good for the gay couple in the new case, but not so fast.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2014, the Court’s five person majority (all males and all Catholics) including Justice Kennedy (and over the vigorous dissent of the four liberals) decided that a corporation like Hobby Lobby—the stock of which is owned by a very religious family—is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause and thus could use religious beliefs to object to funding family-planning coverage for its employees mandated by federal law.  Corporations are thus now “people” too and religious corporations go to church just like other U.S. citizens!

The Hobby Lobby decision opened the door to the argument that people (including corporate “people”) have a right to discriminate against anything or anyone that violates their religious beliefs.  I’m no constitutional law scholar (my field is commercial law), but it will be interesting to see how Kennedy balances religious freedom and gay marriage in this case.  There is even a freedom of speech issue: cake-creation is an artistic statement.  Note that Phillips calls his business "Masterpiece Cakeshop."  Can Colorado’s law force a baker to use his talents to design and sculpt a cake that will add his talented abilities to the supposed sin of gay marriage?

If the Court says no so that Phillips wins, a slippery slope argument leads down other icy paths. Would a pro-baker decision require other religious exemptions such as allowing a Muslim-run organization to refuse employment to Jews since the Quran entombs hatred of the Jews as a basic Islamic tenet?  Might the Court compromise by saying that gays can always get a cake elsewhere, so Phillips wins, but were he the only baker in one hundred miles he would then have to make the cake?

It gets more complicated.  How in the world do we judge the sincerity of religious belief?  Must there be a history of such a belief, as Mr. Phillips clearly has, or can newly-acquired belief be enough?  

What will be the legal standard for something as amorphous as devout conviction?  Can someone who hates gays but who has never been religious suddenly turn away homosexuals from their pizza shop by deciding to be Christian after all and then point to the biblical verses condemning homosexuality?  [See Related Posts below.]

There’s more.  The religious views might be devout, true, and extreme: “Women are all unclean so at our company we only hire men!”  Sadly, this country has a sordid history of discrimination against all sorts of people thought to be lesser human beings.

If the Court sides with the baker in this case it will then spend decades deciding ugly cases in which these fact patterns will be presented.

I’m a gay man, quite liberal, an atheist, and someone with small patience for the argument that a religious belief should justify discrimination based on irrelevant factors such as race, sex, national origin, etc.  But I also am a firm believer in freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  The arguments in favor of Mr. Phillips are not flimsy, and the Court’s decision . . . well, Kennedy’s decision . . . could go either way.  It will be very tempting to rule that religion trumps gay marriage, and perhaps that’s the most likely result.

But it’s my own opinion that the better answer is to say that if someone is going to enter the business world and offer services to the public discrimination is not allowed, not even for religious reasons deeply felt.  If someone’s religion commands discrimination against customers to whom the door must be closed simply because they are black, female, born in Mexico, or gay, then that person should choose an occupation where the issue won’t arise (writing novels, playing sports, writing code, etc.).  In the United States at least the market place should be open to everyone. 


Related Posts:

“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014;

"Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?" June 29, 2014;

"Five Judges Have Stopped All Further Progress on Gay Civil Rights Legislation," August 18, 2014;

Married at Last! A Gay Lawyer Looks at What the Supreme Court Actually Said About Same-Sex Marriage,” June 30, 2015;

“Discrimination in the Name of Religion: Methodists, Religious Freedom Laws, and What’s Right,” May 31, 2016,