“Kenton Kilgore,” people sometimes say, after I introduce myself to them. “That’s an interesting name.”
My mother tells me that when he was a young man, my father, Michael Kilgore, had wanted to be an actor. “Kenton Kilgore” was going to be his stage name; perhaps he had thought “Michael” too common. To the best of my knowledge, he never did become an actor, but when I was born, he gave me the name.
And before we go on much further, let me assure you that no, my middle name doesn’t starts with “K.” People love to ask me that question. I want to ask them if their middle name starts with “chucklehead.” If you must know, my middle name starts with “T” for “Thomas.” It’s a family name, incidentally. More about that later.
I suppose everyone, at some point in their life, thinks they’re unique, but when you have a name like “Kenton Kilgore,” it’s closer to being true than, say, if your name is “Dave Johnson.” I’ve met a lot of “Kens,” even a few “Kents,” but a recent Google search told me that there are only two other “Kenton Kilgores” in the United States (one in Wyoming, one in Virginia). No relation to me. Seeing as how the population of the U.S. is 300 million, that makes me one in 100 million. Tigger sings that “the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one.” I kind of know how he feels.
Some people find it difficult to get my name right. I’ve had people call me “Kenny,” “Kenneth,” “Kelvin,” “Quentin,” “Keaton” —all kinds of things. When I order pizza, I put the order under “Ken:” it’s just easier that way. When I have to give both names to someone, I automatically spell them: “K-E-N-T-O-N” (pause) “K-I-L-G-O-R-E.”
Some of the more-learned folks that hear my name like to make references to Kilgore Trout, from Kurt Vonnegut’s books, or to Colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, or to Stan Kenton, the jazz musician. Yes, I know about them. No, I’m not related to Jerry Kilgore, who ran for governor of Virginia in 2005. Thanks for asking.
In response, I usually drop some geography on them: there’s a Kenton, Delaware, as well as a Kenton, Oklahoma. Seeing as how my father spent most of his life in Oklahoma, he might have gotten “Kenton” from that little town. There’s also Kilgore, Texas (home of the famous Van Cliburn and the Kilgore Rangerettes—not that they ever performed together) and Kilgore Falls, in Maryland. The last one is the only one I’ve been to. It’s very nice there. Good luck finding it.
A genealogy source I came across a long time ago told me that “Kilgore” meant “maker of bricks.” Wikipedia says Kilgore is a division of Clan Douglas of the Scottish Lowlands. None of that really matters to me, because really, I’m not a Kilgore at all.
My father’s original name was Michael Thomas. After his mother died of tuberculosis, his father (Walter Thomas) abandoned him. Michael was adopted by his maternal aunt, Vinita, who had married A.J. Kilgore. Thus, Michael Thomas became Michael Kilgore.
A few years after my parents divorced, Michael Kilgore vanished from my life. I didn’t hear from him from 1980 until 1992. When he got back in touch with me, he had changed his name from “Kilgore” to “Thomas.” Apparently, somewhere in those 12 years, he had had a falling out with his adopted parents. I can understand why. When I was 19, Vinita disowned me for not writing thank-you notes to her when she sent birthday cards. No, seriously. I’m not making that up.
I corresponded with Michael for a few years—sent him letters and photos, talked to him on the phone—but he didn’t try to see me. In 1993, I went to San Antonio to visit a friend, and offered to meet him halfway between there and where he lived in Oklahoma. He said he was too busy with work. The last I heard from him was in 1996. He called and I started asking him about why he left me, and didn’t he think that would be devastating to me, and so on. He handed off the phone to his common-law wife and never called back. She told my wife that he thinks I hate him. Perhaps I should, but I don’t.
If I had wanted to, I could have taken my mother’s maiden name after my father abandoned me for the first time. When my mother remarried, I could have taken my stepfather’s name. When I found out that my father had given up “Kilgore” and gone back to “Thomas,” I could have dropped my middle name and done the same.
But “Kenton Kilgore” is who I am, who I’ve always been. “Kilgore” is the name my wife and daughters have. No, it won’t bother me if, when my girls marry, they take their husbands’ names. One name—no matter how different it is—is as good as another. This one will do.