When I was born, the story was my father came to the hospital to name me Kenyatta and quite frankly my mother did not like the name. Her response, on the hospital floor, in all of her post-pregnancy trauma, was very calculated and subtle as if not to bruise anyone’s ego. “Might Kenyatta be too looong to put on a jersey,” she said accommodatingly. And without much rebuttal, in compromise, my father named me Ken. Ken Robert Williams.
As a kid, the joke was always ‘where’s Barbie’? That was how most other children referenced my name. It was either Ken doll or Barbie doll, my name was fodder for scrutiny.
I can remember standing in front of class, at the top of a new school year, and my homeroom teacher requiring everybody to introduce themselves to the room. It was my turn and I was nervous but I stood up and in my big-boy voice I said, Hi, to the room, my name is Ken and quickly proceeded to sit down. I couldn’t get in my chair fast enough before the wise-crack of a voice reverberated over the classroom, well where’s barbie, challenged the voice. I felt stuck. There were those who found it funny and laughed & others who looked at me, skimming me, waiting for a reaction. If this were a challenge it was obviously my serve. But the only response I could muster, embarrassed and already shy, was to feign a smile & politely take my seat.
In the years ahead, I learned very quickly to adopt the phrase Ken like Barbie as my mantra. I thought if I gave up the joke in my own introduction then it couldn’t be used against me. Even as an adult Ken like Barbie functions as an icebreaker, in very formal situations, as the mnemonic device to teach people how to remember what I still believe to be a very plain name. Ken.