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A Lifelong Activist Sheds His Name

Harvey "Sluggo" Wasserman on a hippie farm in the late 1960s. (Harvey Wasserman)

Enough is enough. Especially when it comes to a name.

Many of you have undoubtedly faced a crisis or two about your own. It can come from anywhere, like changing (or not) your family name when getting married. Or dumping the curse of one you never liked.

Famous examples abound. The great Texas-born classical pianist Van Cliburn was, in fact, Harvey Lavan Cliburn. Lady Gaga is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Kirk Douglas was Issur Danielovitch. Marilyn Monroe came from Norma Jeane Mortenson. Tony Curtis had been Bernard Schwartz. John Wayne was Marion Mitchell Morrison.

You get the picture.

When I was born in Boston 72 years ago this past New Year’s Eve, my mom made my father promise not to name me “Harvey.” Dad’s father, who’d just passed away, was Herschel. So the “H” was unavoidable. But there were certainly better choices. She never forgave him. Me either.

My middle name is Franklin, as my parents were big FDR fans. As an historian, I like it for Ben.

Wasserman means “Aquarius” or Water Man in German. I’m good with that.

But “Harvey”?

The rabbit in the Jimmy Stewart movie was in fact a real-life “Pooka,” a Celtic spirit.

But in light of recent history, now that I’ve moved to Los Angeles, being introduced to new friends comes with “not the Hurricane, not Weinstein, no relation to Debbie Schultz.”

Enough!

So I am shedding my slave name. Instead, where viable, we go with my hippie logo: Sluggo.

That silly moniker originated with a friend who thought I looked like the Sluggo character in the “Nancy” comic strip, now long gone from the funny pages. For more than a decade I lived with it on my communal farm, amidst friends and lovers who never knew my “real” identity.

The name’s best feature is that little kids love it. It always morphs into “Swuggo,” prompting an instant smile.

It’s also a decent WTF radio name, quick to say, puzzling, memorable, at home in Solartopia on KPFK and PRN.

It stuck on the hippie farm in part because I was also a baseball player (see photo). Now in my early seventies, I remember myself in my early twenties as being a spectacular athlete. And, of course, the older I get, the better I was.

Ask me after a few more brain cells disappear and I’ll tell you about my Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox, my banner years with the Celtics and my singles championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

But in the interim, “Harvey Wasserman” will stick around for bylines. “Sluggo” will pop up mysteriously in the middle, when an editor will let it ride.

Like a Pooka, he’ll get ink on random name tags, along with “No Nukes” or “Solartopia.”

He is always the only Sluggo in the room. It’s a great icebreaker. And no hurricane, Weinstein or Debbie Schultz.

So how about you? Got a name you hate? One a parent stuck you with you never forgave them for?

Or one you love but never had the nerve to adopt?

Sure you do. Now take the leap! You’ll be glad you did.

Just be sure to pick one that makes you smile when kids mispronounce it.

Harvey “Sluggo” Wasserman has many grandchildren who call him “Boppa” and/or “Harby.” “Swuggo” will now be added to the mix.

Harvey Wasserman / LA Progressive

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