What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Lots of things. We are attached to the sound of our names. Scientists say only the voices of our children or lovers can cut though the din and catch our attention like the sound of our own names.

Names are personal. Very personal. We get in the habit of identifying with the sound of our name, and the written symbols that identify it. In many ways we become that sound, or that set of symbols. Mary says "I am Mary" as easily as she notes "My name is Mary."

Millions of people identify with a given name other than the first one in the series written on our birth certificates. Even if you are not one of these people, you do know many of them.

Many --a surprising number-- of statesmen, artists, race car drivers, movie stars, crooks, musicians, and business moguls whose names you recognize actually have *another* given name or two sitting in front of the one you are familiar with.

The name you recognize as "their name" is a given name other than the first one in the series.

Very likely some of the co-workers and friends you talk to every day also have additional given names listed on their birth certificates in front of "their name," the one that you know.

What's the point?
There is a hidden world of onomatology or onomatistics [the study of names] out there you may have missed. Becoming aware of this aspect of your social world can be entertaining, shocking, revealing, or at the very least it can help you understand the world a bit better.

Good old "Dan Smith" who lives across the street might actually be named "Lawrence Witherspoon Armstrong Danforth Smith," but uses "Dan" to honor a beloved uncle who earned a silver star in WWII. "Jane Doe" from the office could be "Dorothy Jane Doe," who is estranged from her abusive alcoholic mother, also named Dorothy, and is not fond of people who assume they can call her "Dorothy" without asking first.

Obviously, understanding middle names isn't going to lead to a cure for cancer or become a route to world peace.

But thinking a bit about middle given names adds a certain richness to your experiences of other people and the world we live in. And it might prevent you from hurting the feelings of someone you care about. That's all. That's enough.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Andy Rooney: people with famous middle names

A few years back, famous grumbler Andy Rooney tackled the subject of middle names and offered a somewhat different kind of list: famous people known by their first, middle and last names. Rooney also revealed his own middle name: "Aitken."

Rooney's column makes me smile to imagine "Zsa Z. Gabor" on a tax form or driver's license.

See the article here

No comments:

"Real" names and who gets to decide?

By some estimates more than 30 million Americans use one of their legal names other than the first one as their "proper name." In many American subcultures and in the rest of the world, people have four, five, even six "legal" names.

For all of these people the old misleading standard of "first name, middle initial" on fill-in-the-blank forms are not just annoying and frustrating, they are inaccurate and misleading.

The reasons for preferring one of your legal names over another are as varied as the reasons for choosing those names in the first place: honoring an ancestor, avoiding confusion in a family full of people named "James" or "Mary," changing social norms [i.e.: at one time Carrol and Hillary were primarily men's names], or just plain personal preference.

The point is that it is your name and you can use it as you please. Or that is how is should be.

As a friend of mine once pointed out: "The system exists to serve us, we don't exist to serve the system." Indeed. Remember that line and drop it on the next 'First name, middle initial please" person you meet.

Sadly, many millions of us have wasted thousands of hours during our lives arguing --futilely-- with bureaucrats on every level regarding our "real" names.

"...the system exists to serve us, we don't exist to serve the system..."
Most anyone --and there are millions just in the US-- with a name that does not conform to the "first name, middle initial" standard can offer examples of where this unrealistic standard caused them mind-bogglingly frustrating, if not dangerous and even life-threatening, confusion.

Carbon copies are dead. Data storage is almost free. We don't need to scribble information on little slices of dead trees. A newly smaller and increasingly interconnected world means we all deal with a much greater variety of people in our daily lives.

When is this "first name, middle initial" nonsense, a relic of the 18th century, going to change?