Boys, and Their Names
December 6, 2017

“What’s in a name?”
William Shakespeare

I think I now have confidence that it is not just me. There is something about boys and their names.

When I was little I would look for places to write my name. In fact even just the first letter, inscribed the best I could, was enough to let the world know that an object was mine. Many things I owned, as well as a number that I didn’t, were marked with a prominent ‘J.’

I vividly remember the delight I felt in penning, and then observing, that letter. There is something about one’s own name.

Then some years ago we had a young lady as a tenant in our home, and of course she parked her car in our house lot. One day to her dismay (and ours), she found that there were several long scratch marks on the panels of her car, apparently made with the sharp end of an acorn (of all things!). The more precise origin of the scratches might have remained a mystery had not a closer investigation of the car revealed a neatly inscribed ‘N’ on the front hood. Indeed, the ‘N’ was carefully circled. The only male child in our home at the time happened to be named Nicholas.

Fast forward over a decade to this week. A scream emerges from the upstairs children’s bathroom, and it comes to light that a large ‘R’ has been discovered on the sink bowl. Of course, inscribed in permanent marker. My youngest child is our second boy. Raphael.

We’ve raised four spirited girls. I have never seen any of their names, or the first letters of their names, inscribed anywhere but where they should be. I still come upon rogue but not unexpected N’s in various places, matched by a growing presence of R’s.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Perhaps I carry a particular, hereditary male flaw. But my experience as a father, as well as philosophical considerations, point rather clearly to the existence of real differences between boys and girls. Often, the precise nature of the difference, and even more the deeper reason for the difference, can escape our grasp.

Yet of this I am convinced: there is always a good reason. Somehow our natural differences, especially as tempered and fulfilled by virtuous dispositions, contribute to the proper fullness of human life–particularly in a household.

What a delight it is–even while sometimes also a cross–to observe and have occasion to reflect on how real male/female differences begin to show themselves in the early behaviors of boys and girls. Boys seem to want to leave their mark on things, on the world around them. I wonder: is this connected to a man’s greater inclination to discover and become himself through what he does, and makes, in the exterior forum?

Boys especially can drive their parents crazy: they tend to be on the move, testing things, testing themselves, pushing limits. How many times do we find ourselves wanting to say: what could possibly have possessed you to DO THAT??

The line that ‘boys will be boys’ has a basis in reality. There is a great power at work in them, which can be as scary to them as it is to us. It, they, will absolutely require molding, direction, and discipline. But to give proper direction, we would do well constantly to reflect on what it means to be a true man, and try to discover therein the key to unlocking the mystery that is a boy.

Image: Raphael

Leave a Reply


  1. I have nine children: 5 boys and 4 girls. My second daughter is the one who has carved/written her name on tables, bookshelves, and many pieces of scrap paper and mail. She is usually pretty quiet, a deep thinker who won’t easily change her mind. Thank you, Dr. Cuddeback, for this. I am now thinking she might have more to say in her time here than I thought.

    1. Margaret,
      How interesting that only a daughter of yours has done that. Children are always full of surprises. I’m sure that she, and your other children (!), will continue to amaze. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I have to say that I was guilty of inscribing my initials on things when I was a young girl, maybe around 8-10. Sometimes my sister helped me. Once was with a dry pen nib on a wood desk of my grandmothers. She laughed, but an aunt (who hoped for $$ with sale of desk) was furious. I recently found an old yardstick that had ended up at an uncle’s house (from my grandmother’s) and recognized it by the 9-year-old version of my initials. As destructive as your article was, I had to laugh!

    1. Clearly, Sonrie, you have some things in common with me and my sons!

  3. Love it! I have one son and I do not remember his doing this, although he DID make his “mark” in a few other ways. I’ll have to check with my daughters to see if their sons have done any of this. Great story/memory. Thank you and a very Blessed Christmas to you and your family. Miss you at the ICC!

    1. Thanks Ginger! A very blessed Holy Season to you and your family too.

  4. Very interesting, Dr. Cuddeback. I remember a penance given to me by my mother of every time we went to St. Clare of Assisi parish of having to pray on Our Father in a specific pew wherein was inscribed, with the edge of a mood ring of all things, a prominent “K. C.” When I was back in Virginia a few years back, I went to St. Clare’s for confession. When I went to do my penance, I checked all over the back of the pews on the right side looking for my mark. I was strangely disappointed to find that it was no longer there. Nevertheless, I made my best guess and said my Our Father.

    Now that my son Warren has learned to write, I notice that every time he has a piece of paper, whether it be schoolwork, a new book, or just a blank page for drawing, he immediately marks it as his.

    God bless you and yours,

    Kieran DuFrain

    1. Kieran, I love it. They may remove the initials; but I say the pew is still yours. God bless you and yours too!