What’s in a name?

Christian Mark McNamara Brady

That is my name. Well, to be honest, my given name is “Christian Mark Brady.” I added “McNamara” to honor my maternal grandfather and I have never been able to get it officially changed. That should happen this year. I have thought a lot about my name and titles lately, but let me give a little background.

When I was in second grade my teacher, Ms. Nichols, an African-American woman who wore a lot of turquoise jewelry, would not teach me how to spell my first name. Why? She felt it might offend the Jewish students in the class. My family had always called me “Chris” so it wasn’t a big deal to me but Danny learned how to spell “Daniel.” I do remember it, however.

I was named, so my parents tell me, after an uncle on the German side of the family, so my name was never intended as a faith statement or hope. (Unlike “Chris Christian” whose originally name was something like “Lucifer Satanus.” OK. That may not be strictly true.) I never really thought all that much about my name until graduate school. When we lived in England everyone called me “Christian” since that was on all the forms and I quite liked the sound of the full name, so I stuck with that for quite a while.

It was when I moved back to the US and took a position (first as a visiting and then tenure-track) assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Tulane. One of the very first questions I was asked when I arrived was “What is a nice Jewish boy like you doing with a name like Christian?” It was actually suggested to me that I not use “Christian” but rather go with “Chris” to avoid “issues.” In the decade since the same question has been asked in various ways and with various levels of humor and concern.

(The one benefit is that people tend to not assume that I am Jewish. I say that this is a benefit since I have a colleague whose name is Germanic and therefore interpreted as being Jewish and when casual conversation revealed that he was not, in fact, Jewish let us just say that “issues” arose.)

What is perhaps even more interesting with respect to my given name is that those who comment on this seem to move quickly to “Oh, are you a Christian then?” I am, but why the assumption that my name is a particular statement of faith?

Now I am known more at Penn State for my administrative role than my academic field it brings with it different questions. Do I introduce myself or sign my letters as “Dean Brady” or “Dr. Brady”? Some, outside of the university, assume that as an administrator I am not an academic and address me in an email as “Mr. Brady.” I don’t really mind, but when I then sign the reply with either of the above I hope they don’t think that I am being snotty, “Look! I have a doctorate!” (Which reminds me of a certain pastor I knew who had an honorary doctorate and insisted that his name/title be recorded as “Dr. Joseph Smith, Ph.D.” One or the other please.)

Then there is the doctorate itself. Mine is from Oxford so the appropriate abbreviation is “D.Phil.” not “Ph.D.” (As far as I know Oxford is the only school that uses this abbreviation. Does anyone know of any others?) I try not to be a stickler about this, but I do make sure it is correct on my cards and letterhead and occasionally someone will comment on it.

Adding to all of this is the fact that I am also ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal church so I could use “Rev. Christian M. M. Brady, D.Phil.”

But those who have received emails from me know that I prefer to sign off as simply,

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