Her name was Patsy, and her life had passed rather uneventfully until a boy in third grade said, “You’re a patsy.” The boy had red hair and freckles and big teeth.
“I’m Patsy, I’m not a patsy,” she replied.
The boy smirked. “Yes, you are. That’s your name. And a patsy is someone that everyone can walk all over. A patsy just takes it. People can cheat you, they can make you do stuff, and you just say yes. That’s what a patsy does.”
Where did you learn that?”
“My Dad said that word yesterday and I asked him. That’s what he said. Some guy he knows is a real patsy.”
“Patsy’s a girl’s name.”
“I’m just telling you what he said.”
And so Patsy began to wonder if she was a patsy in addition to being Patsy. That night at the dinner table, Patsy asked her parents for advice.
“Mom and Dad, this kid in my class made fun of my name.”
“You have a nice name. What’s wrong with your name?”
“Dad, he said a patsy is someone who doesn’t fight back. A patsy just takes it, whatever people do to them. I’m scared that this kid is going to do something bad to me, and I’ll just sit there and do nothing.”
“Sounds like a bully to me,” Mom said, while helping herself to more mashed potatoes. “What’s this kid’s name?”
“His name is Dick.”
Both her parents started to laugh. Mom was choking on her mashed potatoes as she reached for her glass of iced tea.
Patsy wondered what was going on.
“Mom! Dad! What’s so funny? It’s not funny.”
Her father was the first one to gain control of himself. “Patsy, the funny part is that this boy’s name is Dick. Dick means something else, just like Patsy means something else.”
“What does Dick mean?”
“Sorry. I can’t tell you. There are some words it’s better for kids not to know. There will be plenty of time to learn those words. When you’re an adult, you’ll know why your mom and I are laughing today.”
“But I won’t be an adult for a long time.”
“And that’s a good thing. You’re a great girl, and all of us, including Junior, enjoy having you with us. There’s plenty of time to enjoy all kinds of things.”
“I’m going to tell Dick that his name means something bad.”
“Please don’t,” said her mother, “or Dad and I might get into trouble.”
Patsy thought about this possibility. “OK. But when I’m big I’ll find out what his name means and I’ll call Dick on the phone and tell him.”
“That sounds like a reasonable plan,” said her father. “But for now please promise not to tell him his name means anything other than his name. And I have another idea.”
Everyone, including Junior, turned to look at him, waiting for an important proclamation.
“Patsy, we love your name, but since this Dick has started something” (Patsy’s mother started to laugh again), “it might be a good idea for you to go by your full name: Patricia. It’s an ancient and honorable name. It comes from the Latin word patricius, meaning a noble person.”
“What’s a noble person?”
“A princess or a king or a queen, people like that. So you could use your full name if you want to. Just tell your teacher and your classmates, and eventually they’ll get the hang of it.”
Her mother added a suggestion or two. “Some people named Patricia are called Patty or Pat. It’s up to you. What do you think you’d like to be called?”
“I think I’d like to be called Patricia.”
“Great. We can start right now. And tomorrow I’ll give you a note to take to your teacher.”
“OK. That sounds good. Patricia. Patricia. I like it.”
“Patricia! Patricia!” Junior was getting the hang of it as well.
Dad had the last word. “Patricia it is. And somehow I think that when Dick gets old enough to realize what his name means, he may decide he wants to be called Rick or Ricky or even the more formal Richard. But for now, he’s a real dick.”