Theological FAQ:

What's the deal with your name?

Sometimes I wonder myself. I have three last names, all of them rare. I could write a Top Ten List on this one. In fact, I think I will.

10. Did your parents lose a bet or something?

I don't think so. Then again, they would be too ashamed to admit it.

9. How did you end up with a first name like "Telford"?

"Telford" entered my family when my (I think) great-great-grandparents gave their minister's surname to their son. They gave him "Cree" as a first name, which is even worse, so he used "Telford," and a family tradition was born. I am the fourth Telford Work in the series (though the generations' middle names differ).

Incidentally, my son Daniel has it as his middle name. We are easing it out as my ancestors once eased it in.

8. Does "Telford" mean anything?

Google "Telford" and you will discover that it is an industrial town in northern England. It is also the surname of an engineer, Thomas Telford, who changed paving and thus the industrialized world forever. Once in a civil engineering class at college I was startled awake — er, I mean startled — when the timeline on an overhead distinguished between "pre-Telford" and "post-Telford". Who knew I lived in the post-Telford era?

Etymologically it does mean something or other, but nothing so important as to divide the ages like pavement does.

7. Where does "Work" come from?

"Work" is a Scottish name, from the Orkney islands north of the Scottish coastline. If you like rocks and wind, it is a beautiful place. If you like trees, you will be sorely disappointed. The name speaks to a heritage that is not exactly blue-blooded: One doesn't get named "Work" for owning the means of production, if you know what I mean. My brother once told me we were indentured servants building other people's castles. But then again, my brother also taught me left and right backwards when we were kids. More authoritative sources trace the name to John of Wark (as in Wark Castle). Google "John of Wark" and you will find, er, nothing besides this page.

Two Work brothers came from the Orkney islands to America in 1690, allegedly to avoid the naval draft. (Hey, perhaps they were "right-wing pacifists" like me.)

6. What is your middle name?


5. You're kidding me, right?


4. Wow. "Telford Clemons Work." Huh.

Could we keep this to questions, please?

Okay, okay. 4. What is the significance of "Clemons"?

Well, my maternal grandmother was a distant relative of Samuel Clemens. The family split over abolition. Mark Twain's wing opposed it, kept the spelling, and became Democrats. Our wing split, changed the "e" to "o", and became Republicans. Some even helped operate the Underground Railroad.

My family, still politically conservative, looks back on that history as a matter of both pride and responsibility.

3. So have you sued your parents?

This is my all-time favorite response to hearing my name (a position of true distinction, believe me). It came from someone at my church I had just "met" over the phone.

That's right: If you want to feel the warm embrace of Christ's unconditional love, come to my church.

As to suing my parents, nah. But I don't know of a statue of limitations on cruel and unusual naming, either.

2. So what is it like to have a name like that?

My mother reports that by the age of five, when asked my name, I would automatically answer spelling-bee style ("Telford: T-E-L-F-O-R-D"). Grade school was not without its disappointments, but other children generally found other, more effective ways to humiliate me.

One drawback is that everyone remembers my name, while I am very poor at remembering theirs. The world is a forest of people named "John" and "Steve" and the like.

A new drawback is that a colleague in my department at Westmont is Tremper Longman III. Everyone confuses us. In fact, I have taken to calling him "Telford."

However, I love being "Professor Work," because students cannot say they weren't warned.

The bottom line is that the name is definitely worth the trouble. It is especially fun for a rootless American to have an unusual story to tell.

1. Do you have a nickname?

Yes, but there is no way I'm revealing it on the Internet.

Grace and peace, Telford