John Grindrod: Among all the serious this year, there was also the silly

In any given year that comes to a close, there is reflection. Once most folks reach a certain age, there’s a realization that another year completed was truly a gift they were granted, one denied by many in 2023 and one surely not guaranteed in 2024.

This year that’s come down to just a scant few hours has, without question, been filled with so very many momentous and discouraging news events. There have been devastating storms and wildfires that have leveled communities. Other events have truly had global implications with wars raging in different parts of the world that our country has a vested interest. There have also been events that occurred that will cause folks on either side of an issue to fight with their proverbial teeth and nails as to whether, for example, a shooting rampage in a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, should prompt people to urge their legislators to fight for more money to enact more gun-control laws or urge them to find ways to increase funding in combating mental illness.

However, please allow me to go to the eye-candy news department, totally separated from the stories that really matter. The one I found most intriguing and perplexing involved a contest run by the restaurant chain Subway. It was a contest with a question that has been asked for generations, which is, “What would someone give up to gain something he or she desires?”

The offer Subway put forth had to do with tempting people to give up the first thing given to them in exchange for food. In case you missed it, here’s what Subway did. The company hosted a contest enticing fans of the restaurant to enter to win free sandwiches for life if they were willing to legally change their first names from what they were given by their parents to the name of the restaurant.

The contest only ran for three days between August 1 and 4 when the chain introduced a new line of sandwiches called Deli Heroes. The one drawn entrant willing to change his or her name was promised that the company would pay the legal fees, approximately 750 bucks, to change the person’s name to Subway in addition to the sandwiches for life.

You might ask if you missed the story, “Just how many people would be willing to do something that outrageous just to win sandwiches?” Would you believe there were 10,000 in a 96-hour period who were willing to be called Subway?

This business of changing one’s name has always interested me. I’m not sure why, barring a very unfortunate first-and-last-name combo or to espouse a religion, why anyone would do it either for some sort of compensation or on their own.

Certainly, I understand two of the more famous sports figures’ name changes when they converted their religion to Islam decades ago, Lew Alcindor’s change to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cassius Clay’s becoming Muhammad Ali.

In the case of the latter’s name change, there’s a famous story about arguably boxing’s most well-known figure both for his pugilistic talent but also for his brash personality and activism, and it’s a story that involves his name change.

In 1967, two years after his conversion to Islam and the name change that came with it, Ali fought Ernie Terrell, who, during the run-up to the fight, continued to call his upcoming opponent by what Ali told the press was his slave name, Cassius Clay, I suppose, as a way to taunt his opponent and help promote the fight. Ali took that as an insult and was so enraged that on fight night, he delivered a savage beating to his opponent in his 15-round unanimous decision win and, during the fight, several times punctuated his stinging blows by yelling,“What’s my name?”

It seems, perhaps because I’ve always paid pretty close attention to sports figures and also because of their celebrity, I’m aware of other players who changed their names, often to rather unusual ones. Former basketballers Lloyd Bernard Free and Ron Artest, Jr., exchanged their names for World B. Fee and Metta World Peace. And Bengals fans will recall back in ’08 that Chad Johnson changed his last name from the banal to the more distinctive Ochocinco as an homage to Hispanic Heritage Month before four years later changing it back to his original name.

Hollywood has seen scores of actors and actresses change their names to what they believed were more marquee-friendly ones, from Norma Jeane Baker’s change to Marilyn Monroe to Marion Morrison’s change to John Wayne to Bernard Schwartz’s change to Tony Curtis.

Yes, I suppose there are reasons to change the very first thing one is given, but for 10,000 people to do it for a lifetime supply of Titan Turkey and Grand Slam Ham subs, well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s just not a good enough reason. As for “the winner,” well, I really didn’t even care enough to know. I suppose I’ll know if I ever meet him or her, during our introductory exchange of names.

And that, dear readers, is my favorite harmless news tidbit from 2023. Here’s hoping in our upcoming year, there are more of those types of stories and fewer ones that are so very depressing.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].