My name is Hermann. And so is my father’s name. Growing up, I found this more annoying than charming. Living in one household with another person sharing the same name can lead to weird situations.
Going with a name like “Ham” gives you a perfect excuse to print silly stickers.
When my mother yelled “Hermann!” it was always a guessing game who was supposed to answer. Sometimes I could tell by her tone of voice, especially if I knew that it was either me or my father who was in trouble.
Deciphering the intended recipient for letters and packets was annoying. So was explaining insurance companies, banks or automobile clubs (looking at you, ADAC) that my father and I are not the same person.
The worst memory I have, though, is answering the phone. Having a small handyman shop, my father often went out to install or repair things. Living in a small town in the 90s and early 00s, a lot of communication was done over landline phones. My parents always encouraged me and my siblings to pick up the phone to help them.
It was a disaster.
Once my voice started to sound exactly like my father’s people couldn’t tell us apart on the phone. And answering the phone with “Hello, this is Hermann Vocke speaking” (of course I said this in German, not English) did not help avoiding that confusion at all. After a couple dozen calls from strangers who rambled about their broken washing machines, ordered parts for their dishwasher or yelled at me because they were not happy with “my” previous job, I simply refused to answer the phone. I suspect this was the root cause for my anxiety of talking to strangers on the phone for years to come.
Luckily enough, my family was good with nicknames. Growing up, I had quite a couple of them. Some were more playful, some were super awkward, and some more presentable. The one that ultimately stuck was “Ham” (pronounced either [hæm] - as in the English word for porky meat or [ha:m] with a German pronunciation, both are fine).
Ham or Häm is a quite common nickname for people named Hermann where I grew up. When Low German (“Plattdeutsch”) was the main spoken language about two generations ago, Hermanns became Häms the same way as Heinrichs became Hinnerks. For extra credit, you’d put the last name in front and use it in a possessive way: “Vocken Häm”.
Over the past couple of years, I embraced that name more and more as it has some adorable traits:
- It’s short. Three letters, one syllable. I can completely enter it into old-school arcade game high scores, how cool’s that?
- It’s unique. At least in combination with my last name. I can easily go with “hamvocke” as my handle when I sign up for an online service. Searching for Ham Vocke gets you to all things that are related to me. And once I started writing a bit more, it was helpful to establish Ham Vocke consistently as my online identity (a hint Martin Fowler gave me).
- It’s personal. With its origin in a regional dialect there’s a regional touch to it.
- It’s fun. People usually think of the meaty product first and are confused. Being a legit name of Low German origin it has nothing to do with meat, of course. Still, it allows me to embrace this double meaning in a tongue-in-cheek way. Like printing hundreds of really spiffy ham vinyl stickers that I can put on my stuff and hand out to people to remember me.
Being Ham has always been a lot of fun. The name has got personality and charm and that’s why I love it. ♥️