Billy to Bill by Sharon O’Donnell
When my oldest son was born, we named him after my husband’s father who died five years earlier at the age of 58: William Robert O’Donnell. We immediately called him Billy, like his father had been called, but I was torn because part of me wanted to call him Robbie which would later probably become Rob — and I still harbored a crush from Rob on My Three Sons that I had watched growing up. But my husband wanted him to be Billy after his dad, and of course I could understand that. And Billy fit my beautiful blond-haired tyke perfectly. He had an impish grin and a humorous personality, and the “le” sound at the end of the name, just rolled off the tongue so easily when we would call him, or laugh with him, or yes — sometimes scold him. “Bill-y!” He was my boy. All the thousands of times I’d write “Billy O’Donnell” on school and medical forms . . .
When he started his junior year of high school, I remember one of the women at our church said that she bet Billy would soon start wanting to be called “Bill”. But he hadn’t mentioned it to me, and he seemed to still be fine with Billy. Sure, we called him ‘Bill’ for short sometime, but Billy was still the name he wrote on his papers at school and that we called him most of the time. When I mentioned to him what the lady at church had said, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No, I’m fine with Billy.” And I was glad because there was something kind of sad about dropping the second syllable of a name I had become so accustomed to, with so many memories tied to it. Besides, there were other famous adults who still stuck with the name ‘Billy’. Billy Crystal; Billy Joel; Billy Graham; Billy Dee Williams; Billy Donovan, the Florida basketball coach: Billy Crudup, the actor; Billy Martin, the former baseball manager, and more.
All through his college years, Billy used this as his name, with the exception of official documents on which he used “William”. Then he graduated and worked as in accounting intern before going on to grad school at the University of Virginia in August. And last week, it happened. I noticed, his Facebook page went from “Billy O’Donnell” to “Bill O’Donnell”, and his voice mail message did the same. Of course, I understood that ‘Bill’ sounds older, and since he is interviewing for accounting jobs now for the spring, recruiters are leaving him phone messages and possibly visiting his FB page and Linked In page. “Bill” does sound more business-like. But still, it made my heart skip a beat as I realized through something so visible and so concrete, that my boy had grown up.
We still call him Billy — but more and more “Bill” slips into the conversation. Only natural, I guess. But he will always be Billy in my heart.