Every so often, somebody inquires as to why the hell I call myself Matty Boy.
To which I affect my terrible Billy Bob Thornton impersonation, and reply, “would you ask Sonny Boy Williamson that?”
Since I’m referencing a radio debacle from years ago between Thornton and the guy from Moxy Fruvous, I receive blank looks in return. So let me clear the air a bit.
Long ago, I saw an episode of Little House on the Prairie where a kid was given a cruel nickname at school. I don’t recall what it was, but the kid didn’t object to being called by it, and when asked why, he said “a nickname makes you feel like you belong.” Troof.
Of the names I was called in school, “Matty Boy” was the most decent. I’m aware that it means “gay boy” in parts of the UK; I don’t live there. I live in Atlanta, where there are at least three other dudes named “Matt Anderson”. Last I checked, Anderson was the 12th most common surname in America. As for my first name, it’s a whole book in the Bible. It means “gift of God”.
My folks obviously put some forethought into my name, so I didn’t want to disrespect that in my professional life. I’d seen “Matty” in National Lampoon, which gave it a touch of the raucous. “Matty Boy” felt like a happy medium, a friendly elbow-in-the-ribs from an accessible pro, like Scott Shaw! and his exclamation point. Oh Matty Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…
I also intended a subliminal connection to another man called Boy. Not Sonny Boy Williamson; even more obscure than he. The father of the celebrated mutant man-child Booji, General Boy.
Much of DEVO’s classic audiovisual material is bookended by the General, proclaiming the band’s importance and power in a calming Akron patter.
General Boy embodied many things I respect; the casual smoothness of a past generation, the gentle authority of a military uncle, the guiding hand of a loving father. Of course, in the real world, he was all those things, in the form of Robert Mothersbaugh Sr., dad to Mark and Bob of DEVO.
Out of respect, I didn’t really mention this until the General passed. But in 1990, in the parking lot of a Savannah Wal-Mart, I ripped open the longbox containing a newly-purchased copy of DEVO’s Greatest Hits, and read the General’s message inside. It was signed. I was changed. Forever.
(It wasn’t really signed, but the aegis of the General was clearly conveyed in a photocopied signature. The liners looked like a declaration of future war.)
There you have it; the inspirations behind my nom de guerre are schoolyard taunts and an imaginary general. Maybe it’s boring, but the
truth troof is, if mom and dad gave me a made-up name of their own devising, I’d never have had this personal journey of self-discovery. I’d either have to embrace the creation of my parents, or break away from the name, thus breaking from them, and probably smashing their feelings.
Is that why so few truly famous people have made-up names?* I mean, before one ran for president, who’d ever heard of a Barack? A rapper called DMX inquired curtly as such around eight or nine years ago. I think; I can’t remember how that went exactly. My point is, maybe it’s not the greatest idea to make your child the only one of something, at birth.
*Hot girls DO NOT COUNT, and YOU KNOW THIS!**
**Because if they’re hot enough, it doesn’t matter what they’re called! YOU KNOW THIS!!!
Lastly, yes, I’m aware that if I manage to achieve old age, the “Boy” in my name will become ironic. Again, I have to mention Sonny Boy, and the fact that like this uninspired article, future interviews can use in-jokey titles that reference better things. “Old Boy”, there’s another one. That’s pretty much it.
What’s in a name, anyway?