It’s funny, how we grip so tenaciously to the labels that bind us. Those essentially meaningless syllables that rattle with vowels and consonants but are lost to history and tradition. Do we really identify with these words? Or are they surreal and disjointed to the majority, only accepted as society demands?
Your name is probably not known to me, though your presence be acknowledged, enjoyed, or anticipated. Regardless of your familiarity, sometimes I will forget your label, and may accidentally even use the wrong one. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve known you, for indeed my own name seems alien and peculiar when thought about in the proper context. I’ll call you ‘Man’ or ‘Dude’ or maybe I’ll just nod with an understanding smile, that I realize who you are, and welcome you.
Sometimes I feel guilty when people call me by name, who seem to know me though I mysteriously remain ignorant of them. Either my aura is so penetrating I’m unforgettable, or I perceive every individual as parts of my life I passively observe, a curiosity I can’t fully integrate. So when they walk up to me and ask, “Hey Shaun, how’s it going?” I have no recourse but to smile and say, “Can’t complain. You?” Rarely, if ever, does their name come upon my lips, for it is a possession I’m unable to claim.
And my name? Secretly, my skin crawls every time its uttered in my presence. It feels not of myself, and occasionally I won’t realize someone refers to me at all. It’s the same as if I were reading a book and one of the characters said my name, breaking the proverbial fourth wall. And indeed, I never refer to myself as “Shaun,” so why would anyone else?
But perhaps that is the same reason several cultures believe we have two names. The one we’re given, the one a friend or acquaintance can equally share, and something secret within our very souls, a word or sound that may be even unknown to us. Others suggest names bestowed by parents only apply while a child learns of this life, and he or she is responsible to chose something that better reflects the spirit finally built upon years of experience, a comfortable thing that embodies their internal truth. Though these practices have largely fallen out of favor over the centuries, the custom is not entirely unknown, and others can understand the desire to not become someone else, but to finally adopt something more appropriate–more real.
But even that feels distasteful to me. As this site will attest, I’ve adopted the nickname “Bones”, something I grew up with thanks to my somewhat skeletal build long cursed by bulimics and anorexics the world over. But if that were ever to be the primary mode of reference to me, eventually it would rankle equally. So, why then? What is it about names that makes them not only slip from my mind, but internally annoy my sensibilities? Even in my favorite books, characters I follow for sometimes thousands of pages, my brain seemingly only uses a character’s name to grudgingly associate adventures properly and within context for the duration of my reading. Even a few weeks later, I’ll have long forgotten names I’ve read thousands of times, while the events remain in stark contrast, a testament to a well-told tale.
I could posit that names contain no intrinsic value, that my aversion to their use somehow means I see beyond them, but that would be a lie. I’m literary enough to know that several hidden meanings and implications can lie beneath even the most mundane phrase, and a single word can wield unimaginable power in the imagination of the right recipient. But I’ve struggled with this as long as I can remember, and I know many are hurt by my reluctance or struggle to remember their name, as if that suggests I don’t remember them, and nobody wants to think they are easily discarded, even in the cacaphonous din that is our world.
But instead I’ve accepted this aspect of myself, and will continue to live as I have, if only because I’m oblivious to reactions, or have successfully hidden it for so long. Until I get that photographic memory I’ve always wanted, that is… I’m looking at you, Mr. Technology! Get your ass in gear!