Sixteen Years Without a Name

  Quick, what’s the longest it’s ever taken you to name something?

  A dog or a cat, maybe? My wife and I took weeks to name one of our  dogs.

  A car? 

  A child?

  Most states require babies to be named before they leave the hospital. Some states allow a bit longer, but the idea is pretty much the same everywhere. Give the kid a name. Now. 

  What’s the longest it’s ever taken a kid to be named?

  Good question. But it’s a pretty good bet that Eagle resident Tamara Scribner would be in the running. She wasn’t legally named till she was 16.

  And she’s not a dog or a car. 

  How did this happen? To begin at the beginning, her parents hadn’t decided on a name when she was born. They still hadn’t decided when it was time to leave the hospital, either. They’d made lists of names, but  couldn’t agree on one they both liked.

  “I thought that maybe once she was born and I saw her, something would click,” her mother, Vicki Stevens, said. “Nothing did.”

  When it was time for her and the baby to be discharged from the hospital, the doctor came to their room and asked what the baby’s name was. He was carrying a form and expecting a quick answer. Stevens  nervously told him she was still trying to decide. He scribbled something on the form and told her to call his office once she’d chosen a name.

  She did.

  Sixteen years later.

  The doctor had retired.

  Naming her first baby had been a slam dunk for Stevens. She had the names picked out before she was even pregnant. The first name would be Regina, a name she loved. The middle name would be George, after her grandfather. Her own name is Vicki George Stevens, and she wanted to continue the tradition.

  Naming the second baby was anything but a slam dunk. When her birth certificate arrived, it showed the last name as Scribner (Stevens’s then husband’s last name; they’ve since divorced). The first name on the birth certificate was …

  An asterisk.

  A paper-clipped note added that the asterisk was temporary, in the off chance that some dim-witted soul would think the kid had been named for a punctuation mark. 

  Stevens didn’t fail to name the baby for lack of trying. She perused books and magazines, asked relatives, friends, even strangers what their favorite girls’ names were. Still, nothing clicked.

  Gradually, over time, Asterisk’s parents started calling her Punky. A cute, temporary name for a cute baby. It seemed to fit her. 

  And it stuck.

  “We liked calling her that. She just seemed like a Punky. And as time passed, it seemed less important to come up with another name.”

  The “temporary” name wasn’t an issue until it was time for her to  start school. Schools require birth certificates. Stevens had the birth certificate, but “Asterisk” posed a problem. What would the person in charge of registration have to say about that? Would it even be accepted?

  To her relief, the person in charge hardly looked at the birth certificate. Instead, she asked Stevens if her daughter had any nicknames. Relieved almost beyond words, she blurted out, “Yes, we all call her Punky.”

  Punky’s teacher and classmates were fine with that. Look at a list of names for just about any first-grade class and you’ll see names a whole lot weirder than Punky. Frostina, Zenith and Dweezil come to mind.

  Not that there weren’t occasional incidents.

   “I told a friend I didn’t have a real name, just an asterisk,” Punky said. “She said, ‘you could go by Assie for short.’ Then she realized what she’d said and blushed. She was a very prim Mormon girl.”

  Life without a real name went passably well until Asterisk/Punky was in high school and wanted to get a driver’s license. An elderly clerk took one look at the asterisk on the birth certificate, huddled with her supervisor and told the tearful applicant she couldn’t get a license because she didn’t have a real name.

  “What about the artist formerly known as Prince?” her mother asked. “He has a symbol for a name and he’s doing okay.”

  The response was bureaucracy at its annoying best:

  “Lady, this isn’t Hollywood. This is Idaho. And in Idaho, you have to have a real name to get a driver’s license.”

  Never mind that Prince was from Minnesota, not Hollywood. The woman had a point.

  Punky was crushed.

  And embarrassed.

  “I was already mad at my folks because the legal age to get a permit in Idaho was 15 and I was already 16. And here was my mom talking about Prince! I said ‘Mom, let’s just go. This is embarrassing.’”

  Back home, Stevens hit on an idea. She decided her daughter was old enough to choose her own name. How many people get to do that?

  Punky was delighted. She called all her friends and told them. Then she made a list of names she liked: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Sapphire and Laredo. (She was, after all, 16.)

  Her mother told her they sounded like strippers’ names.

  Nutmeg-Cinnamon-Sapphire-Laredo replied that the only other name she liked was Tamara George.

  That time it was her mother’s turn to be delighted:

  “She’d accomplished what I hadn’t in 16 years. It was perfect.”

  So, off to court they went to make it legal.

  The girl with no name was “very nervous in court. I was shaking when the judge asked me what I wanted my name to be. I said, ‘Tamara George.’ He said, really — George? I started shaking even more. Was I making a horrible mistake?”

  She felt better when the judge confided that he’d never liked his own name and wished he’d been able to name himself. Murmurs of assent from around the courtroom made her feel even better.

  And so, at age 17, she legally became Tamara George Scribner.

  And got her driver’s license.

  Almost everyone calls her Tamara now.

  Except her family members.

  “In the grocery store, my sister will yell, “Hey, Punky!” People turn and stare. They think it’s a fight starting.”

  She has no intention of taking 16 years to name her own kids.

  “I’m going to have them named way before they ever come. I have some names picked out already – all with the middle name George.”

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press, sometimes more frequently, and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

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