F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
September 2, 2001
Whatever Became of What's-His-Name?

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

People change as they grow older, and their names often change with them.

When I was a kid, my family called me Bobby, short for Robert, which is what my second initial stands for. In first grade, at school, I became Bob, because there were three christened Roberts in the class and the teacher decided to distinguish us by assigning each a distinct variant of the name -- the smallest of the three became Bobby, and the ornery one became Robert. That left Bob for me.

When I went to high school, my father solemnly informed me that it was now time to sign my name more formally, so I became Frederick Robert. Along with Duplantier, that made 25 letters to inscribe every place my name was required, putting me at a distinct disadvantage to my short-handled classmates. They might have answered three or four multiple-choice questions by the time I'd finished supplying my full name. For a while my friends called me Frede (pronounced "Freed"), because that was as much of my first name as I could fit in those boxed spaces on test forms that call for last name first.

I'd never gone by Frederick, however, and didn't particularly care for it, so I soon shortened my official moniker to F. Robert. There was ample precedent: the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald had resorted to a first initial, as had Congressman F. Edward Hebert and defense attorney F. Lee Bailey. Of course, it might have been Francis, Fritz, or Felix they fought to fudge, rather than Frederick, but the principle was the same. The only problem with this formation is that almost all documents and applications ask for first name and middle initial. It was then, perhaps, that my character as a conservative subversive began to gel, as I became accustomed to defiantly inscribing an initial in the large space reserved for first name, and trying to cram Robert into the tiny space afforded for a middle initial. Needless to say, the Establishment won out, rechristening me as Robert F. I recently got a rebate check from the Missouri Department of Revenue, made out to Robert F. Did I endorse it that way? You bet. It was my money and I wanted it back.

Eventually, in the interest of speed and added intrigue, I became F.R. -- F.R. Duplantier, a distinctive last name preceded by mysterious first and second initials. That mystery is of particular benefit as a ward against presumptuous salesmen, the ones who feign familiarity when phoning. "Hey, there, F.R., how've you been?" telegraphs a pitch as surely as "Hi, I'm calling to sell you something." The clever fellow who takes a stab at the F (Fred? Frank?) also betrays his true intent and cues my stock denial: no one here by that name [click]. That leaves only my surname as the beachhead for a commercial assault, and not one in a thousand salesmen outside of New Orleans has the slightest chance of uttering it correctly.

Among family and friends, of course, I'm still Bob -- a name that captures perfectly, in verb form, the Sisyphusian nature of my career (bob, up and down) and, acronymically, my current status as husband and father: B-O-B, Beast of Burden. Now that you know my secret, please: No soliciting.