Being Donald is Harder Than Ever

As Donald Trump claims every front page of every news source, I believe we’ve overlooked one group of people that his candidacy has already hurt, regardless of the election’s outcome. A Trump loss in November will salve most wounds quickly. But for others, including myself, the damage done will barely diminish.

Somebody must speak up for all the Donalds who will have had their given name tarnished or exalted in ways we never asked for or expected. Who will speak up for the dontrodden among us?

Donald is a name that’s relatively uncommon, but not unique. I remember only once or twice not being the only Donald in a childhood classroom. Donald’s not like Stephen or Richard or John. Those popular names are attached to saints and kings and, ahem, presidents.

My early years were spent running away from the shadow of Donald Duck, who was seldom the hero in any of Disney’s tales. He was Mickey’s set-up guy, often the one who absorbed the blow when the punchline came. If Mickey had been a name mothers gave their boys in the 1950s, my lifetime therapy bills would have been much higher.

Once my peers were no longer admitting any love of comic books, I thought my name was in the clear. Don Rickles was well-known, but already in his twilight, doing his bits on daytime game shows while we were in school or on Johnny Carson after we had gone to bed.

Don Drysdale was a great pitcher for the Dodgers, but always second fiddle to his all-star teammate, Sandy Koufax. I came to accept the shadow of secondhood as my fate. Don Knotts played Barney Fife and Don Adams was Maxwell Smart, but both were portrayed as fall guys, following the same pattern as Disney’s Donald Duck.

“Don who?” was a joke my parents told, but it was funny only if you knew the Hawaiian singer Don Ho, which I didn’t.

Just when my name could be my own, the Osmonds burst onto the pop music scene, fronted by the pre-pubescent but ever-present Donny Osmond. At first, I thought I could claim some separation. My parents spelled my name differently. Since I shared Donald with my father, he was always Don and I grew up Donnie. (“Donald” was reserved for legal forms and whenever I was in trouble.)

“Not with a ‘Y’!” I insisted, begging for some separation from the boy band Donny. I learned painfully there are distinctions without differences.

Don, like my brothers’ names Bill and Bob, doubles as a common noun and also a verb. Is it any wonder I grew up fascinated with words?

I still remember the moment I was standing on the risers for a middle school choral rehearsal when my friends snickered at the line, “don we now our gay apparel.” The Godfather popularized don as a noun. That underworld context might have been my first brush with any epynomic coolness.

The donscape was mostly barren after that, at least for me. Teenage narcissism has its benefits. I’ve asked others with the same name and they see the same don dearth.

We didn’t fear when “The Donald” burst into national consciousness two decades ago. We were inoculated early, protected from any damage caused by cartoon characters. To this day, I’ve never seen an episode of Trump’s “Apprentice” series.

But now there’s no escaping his name and reputation. He makes sure of that. What’s more remarkable to me is that no one has asked me how it feels. In this town that would like to add some reference to feelings to its “Walk / Don’t Walk” signs, no one has brought it up.

I think I know why. They think they know the answer and that it’s probably not pleasant. So it’s easier to just avoid the elephant in the room whose name happens to be the same as mine. But for those careful and considerate friends, let me speak for my fellow D-list celebrities: “Being Donald is built on pain. Whatever Trump does to the name cannot exceed what Osmond and Duck already did.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.