tod(d) (n.)

Todd Graves with his yellow lab, Raising Cane II [photo: Raising Cane’s Media & PR; image via Wikimedia Commons]

“Todd.” Say the name and what kind of person comes to mind? You don’t particularly like him, do you? He’s obnoxious, pedantic, middling. Perhaps he tries too hard to please in a creepy way, like an advertisement for something from the 70s that you can’t quite put your finger on. Todd might be a Mormon or a Scientologist but Todd never speaks with an ethnic accent. He cannot really be from the city and – except for Todd Bridges, the onetime star of Diff’rent Strokes who is the exception that proves the rule – Todd cannot be black. Nor can Todd be overtly Southern. Or cool. Todd has never rapped. Todd will never save the world from an alien invasion or cage fight or sing the blues. Todd is a nerd, but not the kind that ends up making a billion dollars.

Todd Bridges is not deceased. Yet. He is 50 years old. But you get what I’m saying here: In today’s world of Tuckers and Paytons and Jaydans and Braydons and Triggs, Todd is the dying granddaddy of all insipid suburban names. Culturally speaking, Todd is now the go-to name for a character you’re not supposed to like. It’s shorthand for douche, basically. Todds are everywhere, from that very white, very bland psychopath played by Jesse Plemons on Breaking Bad to reality TV, where Sarah Palin’s husband is a massive Todd.

Todd’s irredeemable, almost mystical American terribleness is now generally agreed upon. It was in the top 30 boy’s names of 1970. Today it barely even cracks the top 1,000. Think about that. Where did Todd come from and where has it gone? There can be no resituating this name. It hangs over contemporary American name atrocities like no other name. In 2100 very few Todds will walk the earth. Like Adolfs and Kermits, we’ll almost be extinct.

I was born a Todd in 1976, and I will remain a Todd until the day I die. When I was younger I thought if I’d have been named Scott or Billy, I wouldn’t have had to get glasses at the age of five. I still believe this. It is a fact that my novels would have sold 30% more copies if my name had the implied weight and wisdom of, say, a Henry, Hannah or Haruki. Do you want to read a novel by a Todd? Nobody does. You read a novel by Todd despite it being by a Todd. You hold your nose.

I decided to change my name about twenty years ago. Well, I removed one of the superfluous Ds, insuring a kind of visual balance between the Tod and the Wodicka. The Tod and the Wod. Only Dick Wodicka would be more immediately ridiculous. True story: I asked my father recently, Why Todd? He said that my mother found the name on a plastic placemat in a department store.

I currently live in Germany, which, in 2015, is very much the Todd of Europe (think about it). Except it’s the only country where my name is almost cool in a juvenile 80s Iron Madison sort of way. In Germany, the word Tod = DEATH. When I removed that d, I knew nothing about this definition of Tod. I remember once, in 2000, I was teaching English in Prague and scheduled to meet a new student by the statue up at the top Wenceslas Square. The student was late, or flaked out on the meeting, and I didn’t have a cellphone, so I wrote my name on a sheet of paper: “TOD!  Then I circled the statue in that foreign city, holding up the paper, proclaiming “DEATH!” to all around me, to you and you and you, surely one of the last of my kind. I knew it. They knew it. You know it.