A Winner In The Name Game

May 05, 1991|By Thom Loverro

When I once called my son's name in a department store, an Italian man who heard me came over and spoke of his envy, wishing that his son had such a name.

When I once called my son's name in a pizza parlor, the owner gave him free pizza and told him that he should be proud of his name.

Nearly any time I call my son's name, people look. It is the sort of name that cracks the air.

His name is Rocco, and if he fails to make a name for himself in this life, it won't be for lack of a good name.

I have always been of the school of thought that names can help shape someone's destiny. There are not many football players dTC whose first names are Pincus, nor are there many accountants whose names are Bo.

When my wife and I named our son Rocco nearly six years ago, it was not to steer him in any specific direction, though. We wanted to give him a name that he could be proud of, a name that carried some tradition -- a name that you couldn't find in the kids license plate section in the toy store.

Now, before I go on, I have to 'fess up. My son's first name is Joseph, after both his grandfathers. His middle name is Rocco. We did this with him in mind, knowing that children sometimes fail to recognize the beauty in something unique, and that carrying the name Rocco could invite some abuse while growing up.

So we figured we would give him an out, if he wanted it -- that he could be Joseph among his schoolmates and peers, until he grew up enough to appreciate his gift. So in kindergarten now, he is Joey to his teacher and classmates.

Sometimes he comes home and says he wants his teacher to call him Rocco. Other times, he says he likes being Joey. I don't know if it will have any effect on him. I guess if he comes home saying he's Fred, Harry and Margaret, too, then I should worry. But he just seems to enjoy having two names.

Make no mistake about it, though, at home, with family, relatives and other friends, he is Rocco. The Rock.

I've asked him what he likes about his name. "It's easy to say," he said. "And it's easy to spell."

Not everyone finds it so easy, though. Somebody once brought a cake for a party for him and spelled his name "Rocko." We still gets cards from people who spell the name that way.

The name he carries with him is the legacy of my uncle Rocco, my father's older brother and the kind of uncle who took on mythical proportions when I was growing up. He was a short, powerful man who was bald -- Kojak bald -- nearly all of his life. His hair fell out at a young age after his leg was crushed by a iron girder in an accident.

He was single. He was a pool shark and a card player. He always had money -- wads of cash, and was generous with it to me. He owned a gas station down by the Brooklyn docks with a grease pit, some dogs and a black and white television where we watched the Mets on Saturdays and talked about baseball.

He was tough, not someone to be trifled with. Instead of going to a dentist to get a tooth pulled, he would pull them himself. He was larger than life.

I was always close to him, particularly since all of the other cousins were female, and I was the only Loverro to carry on the name. I stayed in touch with him after he retired to Florida, where he still shot pool, played the horses, and remained a character. He died at the age of 75 two years ago of a heart attack in the parking lot of the N.Y. Mets Port St. Lucie, Fla., stadium, after a baseball game.

To me, this was going out with your boots on. Even in the end, he had that Uncle Rocco style.

Maybe it was the name. It is a name that creates conversations, circumstances and events. It moves strangers to ask about it, either in awe, wonderment or surprise.

The name comes from St. Rocco, a 14th-century saint. He was born to rich parents, but became a hermit, and contracted the plague, but legend has it that he also miraculously cured others of the plague, and he was recognized as the patron of the plague-stricken. Kind of a dark legacy, but, hey, a saint's a saint.

Carrying such a name brings with it a learning experience, more so perhaps than typical names. I tell my son that he is part of a small fraternity of men who have had the strength to carry it. I tell him about Rocco Francis Marchegiano (Rocky Marciano), undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world. I tell him about Rocco Mediate, the professional golfer who recently won the Doral Open. And in his room is a framed 1959 baseball card of Rocco Colavito (later called Rocky on subsequent card printings).

Maryland has a high-ranking official who holds a special place in the Rocco fraternity. State Fire Marshal Rocco Gabriele is a second-generation Rocco. And he has gone on to name one of his sons Rocco. And his son has had the vision to go ahead and name one of his sons Rocco.

"I've gotten all kinds of reactions to my name, things like, 'Is that your real name,' or they didn't realize that it was an actual name," Mr. Gabriele said. "I'm very proud of it."

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