Whats in a name?

It is crunch-time in the house of the Philosopher–GREs are in t-minus 10 days and counting, and all my free time is spent monotonously reviewing flashcards full of asinine, esoteric vocabulary. I will save the ‘standardized-tests-are-bullshit’ rant here and just say that I am sure that the grad schools I am applying to will rest easy after they realize that I know the definition of words like ‘quescient’ or ‘impecunious’ or that I know 15 different words that mean ‘to criticize severely; berate.’ Clearly this is an important skill.

Keeping in mind the fact that my existence has been reduced to examining words, and also keeping in mind the fact that for some reason, a lot of people have problems with my name, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to have a formal name as a part of one’s identity. A lot of people get upset when someone misspells their name, mispronounces their last name, etc. It would make sense, then, to assume that these people rely heavily upon their names as defining points of their personality. I, on the other hand, could care less about my name. For my entire life, people have been unable to discern the difference between a short ‘e’ and a long ‘a’ in the pronunciation of my last name. These same people also do not have the ability to make the distinction between the letter ‘m’ (which my last name has–2 of them in fact) and the letter ‘n’ (which my last name does not have). Aside from the inability to read or pronounce a name that is phonetic in nature, it doesn’t really bother me. Even my first name is mispronounced–I get “Jack” a lot at work, though this is mostly because of the fact that there is no letter ‘z’ in Korean phonetics, so they replace it with a hard ‘j’. And don’t even get me started on how many different spellings people have created for me over the years-Zach, Zack, Zac, Zak, Zachary, Zakary, Zackery, Zacery… Perhaps the best example of this is a ‘lost in translation’ story–when I was in Guatemala for 2 months last summer living with a host family, it took me about a month after I got home to realize that my host mother had spent the entire time that I was there calling me “E-Zak” (phonetically spelled), which is the Spanish pronunciation of the name Issac. Though I guess I can’t complain–Issac is a pretty bad-ass biblical name. It makes me sound like I should free the poor or heal the sick…or at the very least bring a plague of frogs to infest people’s soup. I was also called “Zacareas” in Guatemala, which is the Spanish pronunciation of my actual name. And this list does not even take into account the long list of short-lived nicknames that I have held over the year-Skip, Trip, Murdock, Skip Dundee, Malachi (even though only one person calls me that, much to my chagrin…) …

After reflecting on this list, I started to reflect on what I thought it said about me as a person. My conclusion was that it reflected my general instability as a person. No, no, just kidding. But really. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that it reflects the instability of what I hold as my ‘identity.’ I think that a lot of individuals grasp so tightly onto a definition of themselves that they never really open up to other possibilities. This death-grip on identity is an extremely limiting approach to life. The paradox of this, though, is the fact that identity is changing every second of every day. Every new interaction, every new experience, every new breath brings with it a new sense of self, a new idea of who “I” really am. And, although the deeply habitual ideas of self, of identity, of “me” tend to follow us throughout our lives, they can also be relieved of their duty in the blink of an eye.

Yes, I am referring to a personal experience, which I will tell you about right now.

I have always been a very shy person. I never wanted to go out to places where I knew no one. I was always the last one to speak in a group of new people. My first semester of college, I sat in my room, watched tv and nursed countless bottles of booze. Yes, I was that roommate. Things were a little better after I transferred to my second University and started living with Shaba. It was nice–we were both equally antisocial and we already knew each other. Needless to say, it was a good match. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that anything changed. I can remember it quite clearly–it was during the last two days of finals in May and Shaba and I were making one of our many treks around the city. It was almost dusk and I turned to her and said “I want to meet people. I am tired of always sitting at home. Lets go make some friends.” It was an almost instantaneous paradigm shift for me. We went back down to campus and, being that it was the last two days of school, found no one. But the feeling persisted, and has remained with me to this day. Without this shift, so many things would not have been possible for me. I would have never gone to Guatemala for two months where I knew no one and spoke about 3 words of Spanish. I would have never moved to Philadelphia and I would probably not be applying to grad schools that are located all across the country. Luckily for me, identity is not permanent, things can change in an instant and your biggest fears can turn into your strongest desires. I think this has a lot to do with why I not only don’t mind having my name misspelled or misspoken, but also why I relish having a ‘new identity’ because of an error on someone else’s part. So please, don’t feel bad if you can’t spell my name or don’t know how to pronounce it. If the fancy strikes you, give me a new name–Malachi tends to strike my fancy. I don’t mind.

Just don’t call me cookie, and I won’t call you cake.


~ by sisypheanfeat on 30 October, 2008.

2 Responses to “Whats in a name?”

  1. dearie me, good writing is sexy!

  2. You are still Malachi Mofo on my phone and that you shall stay. I too have had so many names over the years that it’s hard to use my name as an identity. And I’m completely okay with it.

    *hugs* I’m so glad yous started going out more because we became awesome friends from it.

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