When I was born, the last of four children to George and Gloria Berlow and the only son, I was given the name Hugh Bradley Berlow. As is typical of Jewish families, the letters of my first and middle name were those of deceased relatives. In this case, the H was for my paternal grandmother Harriet and the B for my paternal great-grandmother Bertha. I am told had I been the fourth daughter the selected name was Hilary.
Apparently, in my youth it seemed to be difficult for other children to pronounce my first name. ‘Clue’ and ‘shoe’ were popular options. There were references to the cartoon duck named Hughie and I do recall a now charming nickname of Hugh-cumber. The manager at my first job as an usher in a movie theater, a gruff former Marine, simply said ‘you’ dropping the H altogether.
Throughout college as a filmmaking and creative writing student at the University of Miami, I went by my given name. A friend did suggest I go by H. Bradley Berlow, thinking it would somehow exude a sense of coolness I had not yet mastered.
It was much later there was a sea change. I was married briefly then divorced. After a bit of wayward wanderings, similar to Odysseus, I came back to Massachusetts. I lived in a rooming house with a shared bathroom and kitchen, worked second shift at a self-serve gas station, and started taking the subway into Boston to attend poetry readings.
At one, dubbed Agape by the founders and leaders of the group, I sat in the back of the room the first night I went. I had a small notebook and attentively listened to the offerings of the evening. When all was done, two guys, Tom and Joe, approached me. They were the gracious welcoming types who found a new attendee in their midst.
After they introduced themselves, I spontaneously responded, “I’m H.B.” I had been through a bit in the prior six years and found it necessary to start over, so to speak. I divested myself of a great many possessions, returning to Boston with only ten books and a lot of blank notebooks. I wanted to minimize my life and that’s where the utterance came from.
This was in October of 1990. I was 28. Since then I, in essence, became H.B. I was able to determine social and personal relationships in terms of how I was addressed. Pre-H.B. individuals still called me Hugh. For some of them it has taken a number of years to overcome that. My older sisters never will nor would I expect them to.
My wife of 23 years knows all of this. It’s not as though I was a criminal on the lam with a secret past. Over the years, the abbreviated name got shortened to simply H., which has never bothered me.
The overwhelming point of this dissertation (beyond the “Now you know” aspect) is simply that, as a writer, I do not place much importance on my name. I would have developed along the same lines by virtue of my experiences. It was ending one marriage and turning to poetry that brought me away from the elaboration of screenwriting. It was entering poetry contests in Wichita that brought me into the circle of other writers and artists. And it was those other writers that introduced me to the world of writing conferences where some lasting friendships have been made.
Call me what you will. The journey is the key.
I sincerely hope to see you at the OWFI conference, Bridging the Epic Gap.