I don't know what name I should claim on my byline now: "Dixon", "Symington", "Dicson", "Keith", "Douglas", and "MacDick" are all equally valid, depending....
I love how arbitrary life is.
Someone makes a decision that doesn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, and it reverberates down through the ages like divine writ (which some people might argue it is.)
One science fiction writer traced his existence back to the fact his father — a barber in Poland — happened to be standing in line waiting to be executed in front of a firing squad at a certain time on a certain day.
As it happened, a German officer walking by just then said, “Oh, pull that man out of the line. He’s a good barber.”
If the German officer who strolled by then hadn’t valued a good haircut, the science fiction writer wouldn’t have been born.
Recently I met another man named Dixon who mentioned some family history I should research. I looked up a couple geneaology websites, and learned a few things about my distant ancestors.
See how many “could have gone either way” moments you can find.
The earliest-known mention of a variation on the name Dixon is "Filius Ricardi", a Latin reference to the son of a Scotsman named Richard Keith.
“Filius Ricardi” — whose dad was named Keith — was mentioned in a 1306 document from the reign of the Scottish king Robert Bruce. If naming standards had been a little different back then, I’d be “Joshua Keith.”
The earliest known person who actually went by a version of “Dixon” was Thomas Dicson — the “Filius Ricardi” of the document? — Laird of Hazelside and Symington, who was killed at a battle for Castle Douglas in 1307.
However, in those days peoples' last names weren't a nailed-down as they are today. Thomas Dicson also went by “Thomas Symington” from the name of the lands granted to him by King Robert.
Thomas’ eldest son chose the name Symington, perhaps to really establish his connection to the lands he inherited. The wealth and castles were passed down through his descendants, the Symington family.
It would have been a younger son who chose to keep the Dicson last name, apparently because of a rift in the family.
If my family had descended from the older son, I’d be “Joshua Symington”, and I’d be among the heirs to the Symington lands in Scotland. Instead I’m descended from the younger son, and my family ended up as hillbillies in North Carolina.
Some more if-onlies:
If the younger son had chosen to go by his mother's maiden name instead — an option back then — I would today be “Joshua Douglas."
If my ancestors had come from the northern part of Scotland (the highlands) instead of the middle part (the lowlands), my name would be "MacDick" or "MacRichard".
Don’t get me started on where the name Joshua originated, or how my parents chose it. We’ll be here all day. It’s probably a miracle I’m not named Hernando Przybylinski by this point.