Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Boy Named "Honk"

Names are touchy things. Think of the bloodshed caused by the names Hatfield and McCoy. Recall the reason for the tragedy of the lovers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet.  “A rose by any other word” ring a bell? What if Hamlet were not named after his murdered father? Would he have had the same intensity of filial obligation? It is odd and even unfair that something that can have such far reaching effects, such consequences of fate and free will, can be carried out with no input from the named at all.

Were I an expectant father, the question of a name would be a paralyzing contemplation. I would be overwhelmed by the immense ramifications of the name I gave to my child. Should the name have historical allusions? Should the name show some family tradition? Should the name be a reference to strength or peace or wisdom? Would an allusion to someone too well-known set my child up for unfair comparisons? Would my kid constantly feel an inadequacy as she tried to live up to a name like Athena? It’s an impossible problem to solve since nearly every name has some reference point somewhere. Even a name that seems entirely unique has to have been generated from some reference point in the parents’ brain: a combination of other names, a favorite food, a place, a random noise. Were I to name my child “Honk,” after a noise I heard while crossing the street on my way to the hospital, how could that child not take an auto trip, or even walk down a city street, without thinking about himself and his name. Narcissism would logically ensue. You see my problem: no matter what I might choose, all I can really bequeath to my child through his or her name is hang ups and resentment.

On top of all that, I would have to assume that any choice I made would have to be negotiated with the child’s mother. It then becomes a compromise, and who wants to spend his/her life saddled with a mark of compromise, a reminder of one or the other parent’s surrender, ultimately: weakness. Weakness for the sake of peace and harmony, of course, but weakness, nonetheless. (“What does your name represent,” Johnny’s teacher asks in grade school, during a well-intentioned class discussion on names and being proud to be one’s self. “Compromise,” Johnny sighs in response, since Mommy wanted to call him Jeremiah, but Daddy would have none of it. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?) However, there is a possible solution to this issue for parents and children dealing with this silently awful and far-reaching situation.

Today is “Get a Different Name Day.” It’s one of those days that strikes me as a good idea, on the surface, in many respects, particularly for people with names that remind others of body parts, like Mulva, or anyone who is burdened by a compromised label. In one respect, “Get a Different Name Day” can be liberating and empowering since most of us carry the name we were given by our parents. A name we did not ask for. No disrespect to my own wonderful parents intended, but, while some may look upon the name they offer their children as a gift, I often wonder what the agenda behind my naming was. I was originally supposed to be called something entirely different from my current name, but my grandmother did not like it. As a result, I was given my father’s first name and a different middle name. So, I am labeled as I am as the end result of some sort of multi-generational power struggle.

Were I to take advantage of “Get a Different Name Day,” I might choose something more indicative of who I am, something that speaks to my strengths or personality. However, naming oneself is a dicey proposition--nearly as paralyzing as naming a tiny human that bears half of your own genetic material, for it bears some of the same pitfalls as giving yourself a nickname. It just doesn’t work to say to somebody, “Call me ‘Lightning’.” Even if you think you are a pretty fast runner, and even if everyone agrees that you are a very fast runner, and “Lightning” might even be a suitable nickname for you, suggesting your own nickname will only result in the following moniker: “Asshole.” It is simply common knowledge, a piece of primordial intelligence, something passed down from the proto-simians in the prehistoric trees: someone who solicits their own nickname is an asshole.

In that respect, “Get a Different Name Day” is a failure. It can only result in a world full of assholes, which is pretty much the world we already live in, now. And a good holiday should commemorate people who have changed the world for the better, or it should encourage us to do the same, which is why Columbus Day and Drive Without Your Headlights On Eve are shitty holidays.

Thus I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place: empowerment at the cost of being an asshole, or a worn-out, ill-fitting label and a reputation in relative good standing. “Get a Different Name Day” implores me, and all of us, to take ownership of the most important thing we own. Something so important that John Proctor, in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, chooses to die rather than lie about his allegiance with Satan because he would ruin his name, and he “shall never have another.” Too bad for him the Puritans did not have “Get a Different Name Day,” I guess. He didn’t even have a choice, but, for me, I’ll just stick with the compromise I am stuck with, and hope I still smell as sweet.

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