From Billy to Bill by Sharon O’Donnell

When my oldest son was born, we named him William Robert after my husband’s father who passed away five years earlier at the young age of 58. After we found out via ultrasound that our son was a boy, my husband Kevin immediately said he’d like to name the baby after his dad. So William Robert, it was. Most people had called Kevin’s dad “Bill”, but his family members sometimes called him “Billy” even into his fifties. The name was fine with me, but I have to admit at first I’d preferred to call him ‘Rob’, I think because I used to have a crush on Rob on the TV show, My Three Sons (played by Don Grady, whose name I haven’t forgotten). Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that I’d eventually be the mom of three sons myself, or the name might have seemed even more appropriate to me.

The only “Billy” I’d ever known was a cute blond boy I’d known in elementary school, so I had a good feeling about the name. The name “Bill” made me think immediately of my Uncle Bill, my father’s brother whom I’ve written about previously — a WWII bet who served in Italy, had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder his entire life (rendering him basically unable to function normally and be productive, and was looked after my parents until his death several years ago. It’s a sad story. And thus, the name always made me feel sort of sad.

I knew that often Billys and Timmys and Dannys as little boys become Bills and Tims and Dans. My own brother, Sam, Jr., was called Sammy when he was young and Sam when he got older — except by our family. Because of my uncle, it was difficult for me to think of my baby as a ‘Bill.” But I loved the name “Billy”; it sounded so positive and joyful to me. And besides, he’d be a ‘Billy’ for a long time. So we named our newborn son William Robert back in 1991 and called him Billy. He was my boy, and we bonded quickly. He was my Billy.

Over the years, we all sometimes called him “Bill” for short, particularly when we would shout at him somewhere to gain his attention. “Hey, Bill, we’re over here!” But most of the time we still called him Billy. I remember once when he entered 9th grade that a friend asked me if he would start going by ‘Bill’ since he was in high school. It seemed an odd thought to me, to suddenly go from the name he was used to all of his life to something else, but I could understand why she asked. The ‘ly’ on the end does make him sound younger. Billy didn’t want to consider it; he still wanted to be called Billy. And he even did so all the way through college. Even through his first internship. And his second internship. And his third.

He will be graduating from college in December with a double major in audit accounting and marketing; then next fall, he will begin a Masters of Accounting Program (MAC). No MAC programs being in the spring semester, so he has to wait until fall. Luckily, he has an internship lined up with an accounting firm from February through May. Some of the correspondence from the company comes directly to his permanent address here at our house. I noticed they addressed the letters to Mr. Bill O’Donnell. I asked Billy about this, and he said with a shy grin that was the name he had given them as his preference. Ahh, so the day had arrived. Adulthood. It was time for Billy to become Bill.

Yes, I could see it coming. But to a lot of us, and certainly to me, he will always be my Billy. The name does conjure up for me images of his sweet little boy clean-shaven face with innocent blue eyes instead of the 6 feet 6″, muscular man he is now. And it is a face and a name that I will cherish. I love him dearly both as Billy and as Bill, but this name change signifies the arrival of another part of his life … and a passage of a part of mine.

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