BY ANY OTHER NAME
by Donald Cameron (Weekend Magazine, 1973)
The name's Cameron. Donald Cameron.
Oh, yeah, the senator, from the Banff School of Fine Arts? No. The proprietor of the A&W Drive-In in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia? No, not that one. The registrar of Mount Allison University? Sorry. The CBC producer? Not the CBC producer, nor the CTV news boss either. The Nova Scotia MLA? The guy from the Industrial Development Bank?
No, the magazine writer. Not the Donald Cameron who did the travel piece on Yugoslavia, though: the one who writes about Cape Breton fiddlers and moonshiners, university professors and folklorists.
You wouldn't believe how many Donald Camerons there are in this debased North American Scotland. Hundreds, I tell you. Thousands. Possibly millions, each one helplessly impersonating the others.
Thirteen Donald Camerons in the Toronto phone book, not to mention 26 D. Camerons, five D.A. Camerons and 22 D. Camerons with some other initial. Seven Donald Camerons have phones in Halifax. In Port Hood, Nova Scotia, there is nobody named Jones-but there is a brace of Donald Camerons. There's one of me in Pictou, two in Antigonish and six in New Glasgow.
How's a boy supposed to make a name for himself when every Don, Donald and D.A. is making the same damn name?
Oh, to have been christened James Quig! Richard Rohmer, Gabrielle Roy, Mordecai Richler, do you truly appreciate your good fortune? With a name like Raymond Souster or Edgar Z. Friedenberg, how could one miss? Better to be the unforgettable American social scientist Hortense Powdermaker than an anonymous Donald Cameron.
It's not a new problem. They were born Sam Clemens, Charles Gordon and Mary Ann Evans, but we know them as Mark Twain, Ralph Connor, and George Eliot. William Davies solved it neatly: he dropped his first name, took his second, and became the elegant Robertson Davies. If I go the Robertson Davies route, I become Allan Cameron. Give a weak cheer: there are four of those in Toronto alone. What about Don Allan Cameron? No: too close to the musician from Mabou.
I need a new name. But what? A neighbor has a name which attracts me: Xyste Landry. Xyste Cameron: try to confuse that! Yes, and try to pronounce it, too. We want something unusual, but perhaps not that unusual. What about Felix? Horst? Jawaharlal? Miramichi?
I like being a Cameron, though I've never been keen on being a Donald. But your name is so much a part of who you are. Who are you? Donald Cameron. Who are you? Just a minute, let me think. I have 38 years invested in my name; it's a professional property too. Suppose Pierre Berton changed his name to-well, to John Smith or Donald Cameron. His loyal readers, and they are legions, would pass up his next book in favor of Farley Mowat's newest frozen epic.
Could a writer, I wonder, simply adopt a bizarre label, like a rock group? Magazine articles by Steppenwolf, books by Crowbar, a radio play by The Donald Cameron Experience? Werewolf; what about that, now? "Werewolf is a contributing editor of Weekend Magazine." Burning Bush? The Seventh Dwarf? The Kingston Mono? Or what about this: "Scotch Broth is a writer living in Cape Breton."
Cape Breton: there's a thought. Why not call myself Lord Liftin? But then a name is for daily use, not just for display. When your lover falls sighing into your arms, whispering, "Oh, Lord," is that ecstasy or exhaustion? Is she talking to you or to Someone Else? I have some French blood, I live in a French village. Alphonse Cameron? Gaston? Narcisse? Ulysse? Placide Boudreau settled my land-but no, mon ami, I am not Placide. Hyacinth? Cornelius? François? Not bad, François Cameron. Armand? Aurel? Benedict?
Donald Nectaire Cameron.
Cape Breton. If your father's name is Hector MacKenzie, and he names you Angus, you're Angus Hec MacKenzie. One of them Hec MacKenzies from Sporting Mountain. That makes me Donald Max Cameron. But my mother wanted to call me that and my father forbade it. I named my eldest son Max instead. What about my mother's middle name? Donald Bathia Cameron. Perhaps not.
"Lard Jasus, b'y," said folk-singer Tom Gallant, "you need a proper Cape Breton nickname." I know what he means: Black John MacDonald as distinguished from John The Piper MacDonald and Gimpy John MacDonald and John By-The-Church MacDonald. What are my own characteristics? I'm short: what about Donald The Runt? Or Brief Donald? No, no dignity: if he had called himself Clubfoot George would we remember Lord Byron?
Tom struck a chord in his Yamaha, gazed at me. "That hair," he said. It's my most striking feature, prematurely grey hair, set off by black eyebrows and moustache. Don't ask me how I got that color scheme, ask God: He did it. Children stop me in the street to ask me if I'm wearing a wig. Adults chalk it up to noxious personal habits and secret vices.
"That hair," said Tom. "That's it. Silver Donald Cameron."
Lord t'underin' Jesus, that's all right.
Know all men by these presents, then, that the Donald Cameron who was raised in British Columbia and writes from Cape Breton, who studied in England and taught in New Brunswick, that Donald Cameron is the one who now calls himself Silver Donald Cameron.
Silver Donald Cameron! And don't you forget it, Green Harry!