That one time I gave myself the only name worse than McQueer...
IT has been brought to my attention recently by several incredibly observant people that my surname is very unusual and, also, very funny. Now, it may come as a shock to you that I already know this. I am fully aware of its comedy value, the novelty of it and of the fact that it is completely ridiculous.
It’s not a pen name. Someone took time out of their day to send me a message on Twitter explaining to me that using McQueer as a “moniker” was offensive as I am a heterosexual man and it looked like, as they put it, I was trying to curry favour with the LGBT community.
I had to politely explain to them that I was not at it and that it is my real name.
It hasn’t always been my name though. It says McQueer on my birth certificate and it’s what I was known as at school until about primary five when my maw got married. As it was around this age I had started to get a bit of grief in school about my name and realised what it meant, I jumped at the chance to change it to my maw’s new married name. I strutted back into school after the summer holidays with a brand new name and identity. I was now Chris Gray. It was a chance to reinvent myself. To me, Chris Gray sounded like the name of a secret agent. Two short, sharp, one syllable words coming together to form a name that simply rolls off the tongue, that lands in people’s ears like a dart into the bullseye. I was now Chris Gray and that was that. No more slaggings ever again. A bullet well and truly dodged.
What I was not remembering when I walked into school that day was that I have slight speech impediment. It’s subtle enough that if I talk fast people don’t really notice it but it’s still there and I’ve never been more aware of it than when I said my new name to my classmates that day.
“I’ve changed my name,” I announced to my group of pals. “I’m no Chris McQueer anymore.”
“What’s your new name?”
“Chris Gray.” However, Gray didn’t come out the way it was meant to.
I faltered over the letter R, a bit like Jonathan Ross does. I said it quickly and what came out sounded like “Chris Gay”.
‘Ahahaha Chris Gay!’ They shouted in unison. It would stick with me through the rest of my time at school. Just as I’d thought my days of being on the receiving end of merciless taunts about McQueer were over, a new dawn of insults began. I managed to give myself a worse name than McQueer.
After a few years, following my maw’s divorce, I made the decision to go back to being Chris McQueer. I was older now, battle-hardened, and ready to be a McQueer again. Chris Gray was a crap name anyway. Dull, boring, it was like what the colour beige would name itself if it was a person. I started to grow back into it, owning it, using it as patter. Anytime I had to phone anywhere, about broadband or council tax or whatever, and the person on the phone would ask my name I’d go, ‘Sorry It’s a bit of a belter; it’s McQueer! Spelled like em-seequeer.’ Then we’d either have a wee chuckle about it or they’d go quiet. It’s a good laugh.
Recently I started doing a bit of digging on the name, trying to find its origins. There’s two theories I have, one which is a lot more interesting than the other. The first is that it’s simply a misspelling of the name McQueen. Someone wrote it down on some register or birth certificate and didn’t quite get the N at the end right so it looked like an R and it just stuck.
The other came from a distant relative who emigrated to Australia from Glasgow in the 1960s. His da was my granda’s uncle or great uncle, we’re no quite sure. But he postulated that the name was something a family from within anther clan were tarred with. Perhaps exiled from the community for something they did and branded as weirdos, queer in the original sense of the word.
The name suits me down to the ground now and I’m proud of how weird it is. It stands out in print, on shelves in bookshops and gives me a wee edge. Maybe if I was still Chris Gray my life would be totally different. Hopefully my girlfriend will come round to the idea of becoming a McQueer one day, or at least giving our kids the name, it’s a shame that it might die with me, but then, maybe it’s for the best.