Short Story: What’s in a Name?

A comedy of errors

Photo by Isaiah Schultz on Unsplash

“So, ah, there’s something you should know before we go through with this,” said Clyde as he knelt in the soggy grass.

“Oh god, anything, Clyde! I love you so much!” Jessica cried, mascara streaking down her cheeks. “I can’t wait to be Mrs. Packer!”

“Yeah see that’s the thing,” he began tentatively. “My name isn’t Clyde Packer.”

Jessica’s bloodshot eyes widened and the grin fixed on her face. Her voice quavered. “What?”

Her mind brimmed with horrible scenarios. Had he truly been lying to her this whole time? Was Clyde on the run? Living under an assumed name? Wait, was he in witness protection? He shouldn’t tell her if he was. She blanched with the sudden terror that maybe she had been calling him by the wrong name this whole time and he never corrected her.

“It’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

“Did you say ‘Pack-m’n’?”

“Nope. Pac-Man. I go by Clyde Packer, but it’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

Jessica stared at Clyde, unblinking.

Clyde shifted awkwardly, still balanced on one knee in the grass. Boisterous birds chirped overhead and his brand new fiance wasn’t saying anything. “Like the game? You know, little yellow guy? Likes to eat dots?” He clapped his thumb against his fingers, imitating the pie-shaped character’s eating habits.

“I know the game,” Jessica breathed. “Well, I see why you go by Packer!” So this meant Clyde wasn’t a fugitive from the law… she didn’t think.

“Yeah. But. My legal name is Pac-Man and, so, yours will be too.” Clyde eyed the diamond ring on Jessica’s finger as though it might explode.

“So I’ll be… Ms. Pac-Man?” Her head felt light.

“Well, Mrs. Pac-Man, technically, but yeah,” Clyde admitted. Jessica plunked down in the grass next to her still-kneeling fiance. He rocked back on his heels and squatted in the grass. He wanted to be ready for a quick escape after dropping his bombshell.

“That’s kind of funny, but it could be worse. I’m sure I’ve heard worse names,” Jessica placated her fiance and rubbed his back. She considered a mutual acquaintance named Ronald McDonald. He managed. She knew someone who said he knew someone named Chris P. Bacon. And what was it that Elon Musk named his baby? Surely being Ms. Pac-Man wouldn’t be so terrible. She kissed his hair and something dawned on her. Jessica stopped and pulled back.

“Wait. Clyde…

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m named after one of the ghosts.”

Jessica flattened her lips and tried to stop smiling. “So, which one is that?”

“…It’s the orange one.”

Jessica lost it. Laughter ripped through her and Clyde sat down hard, dropping his head in his hands. He clutched the ring box against his temple.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Okay so why don’t you change your name if it bothers you?” She swallowed her giggles.

“Can’t. Dad changed our last name after he beat the game before I was born. I told you about that, right? That he was the first person to get 3 million-something points?”

“Yeah but you never mentioned anything about naming you after a video game. I didn’t know he was, like, a superfan.”

“He wasn’t. He isn’t. I guess Namco — that’s the game maker — contacted Dad and offered up a contract. A big annual stipend if he changed his name. Sort of like a living breathing advertisement for the game, you know?”

“But ‘Frederick’ isn’t one of the ghosts…”

“No, I know. He negotiated the contract so that he only had to change his last name. But payouts would be doubled if he had any children named after the characters. So I’m Clyde. I’d’ve been Pinky if I was a girl.”

“Can’t you change it now?” Jessica repeated. “You’re an adult.”

“Sure, but if I break the contract, he forfeits the second half of the stipend. Not just future payments, but all the money he made from naming me Clyde Pac-Man. And it’s… not a small sum. Owing that kind of money would ruin him.”

Jessica wasn’t laughing anymore. She considered Frederick and Merideth Packer’s impressive home. She had never known Mr. Packer (Mr. Pac-Man, she reminded herself) or his wife to work for a living, but assumed they were old enough to retire. Jessica had not considered the possibility that they’d retired young. Now that she thought about it, there were quite a few old arcade games in their finished basement. She remembered seeing several editions of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man in the collection, too. There were even some of the newer versions on nicer consoles. She envisioned the plaque on the wall stating that he had achieved the highest possible score in the game back in the 90s. She knew Mr. Packer was the first one to do it and was vaguely impressed by this feat, but, since Jessica was never much of a gamer, she didn’t give it much thought. Clyde’s admission cast a whole new light on the basement.

“And I know it’s kind of sexist,” Clyde winced, “But the contract says you’ll have to take my last name. If you do, we get payments, too.” He looked up hopefully.

Jessica wobbled her head on her shoulders. “Okay, I could just do like you do and say my name is Packer. I’d use the legal version only when I had to. Nobody would know! I mean, all this time I never knew your legal name, so it can’t be that bad.” She considered the potential awkwardness of their upcoming trip to the courthouse. Filling out their marriage certificate with Namco branding would definitely raise eyebrows. She would certainly endure quizzical looks at the DMV when she updated her license with her new married name. She just hoped she would never get carded.

“Fine, but…”

Jessica flinched. What now?

“If we have kids someday…” Clyde tread carefully.

Jessica blushed scarlet. This was a conversation that she wasn’t fully prepared to discuss. One thing at a time, she thought. She and Clyde had only discussed children in the broadest, most hypothetical terms. The day of their engagement was surely not the most appropriate time to discuss having children.

“No, seriously. There are rules. If we have children, a girl has to be named Pinky and a boy has to be Clyde. Or Namco. That’s the unisex option.” Clyde let out a long, slow breath. “This contract… it’s pretty solid. Namco lawyers are no joke.”

Jessica had run out of words.

Clyde swallowed hard. “I just want you to have all the facts upfront. I understand if you can’t — ”

“Afternoon, lovebirds!” chirped a jogger as he dashed past. The couple’s jeans were getting soaked from sitting on the dewy grass in the park. Jessica dropped her eyes to admire the sparkling new ring on her left hand where a halo-set diamond graced a delicate eternity band. The little channel of diamond dots winked up at her. Clyde waved politely at the jogger without looking up.

“Well,” said Jessica, “we will just have to have fruit salad at our wedding reception.”

Also available to read on Medium and Reedsy

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