What’s in a Name?

Do you ever wonder to yourself how different your life might have been if you had been called something else? What? Never did you say?

Congratulations! You must be one of the lucky ones, blessed by your parents with a reasonably normal, everyday kind of moniker. Perhaps you are rich and successful, possessed of a powerful name like Dirk or Alexander (OK, maybe not Dirk) that makes people sit up and pay attention when they hear it.

Which begs the question; does the name you are given have a significant bearing on your life chances? Would Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. have made such a success out of acting if he hadn’t adopted the name Rock Hudson?

In these modern times it has become a relatively easy thing to change a bothersome or embarrassing name, and indeed many people have forged new lives for themselves by leaving behind an old identity firmly attached to an unwelcome or humiliating label.

Names come and go in cycles driven by our fascination with the famous and infamous, or the bizarre choices they make for their own offspring. How many young women called Fifi Trixibelle are cursing their parents and the Geldofs in equal measure? Not too many I hope.

And how many Adolfs are there left in the world? Is this a name destined to be consigned to History? I have a story for you. It happened today and it got me thinking about this whole name business. It pushed my buttons in an uncomfortable way and got me thinking about my own prejudices around names and the way I might, no do allow those prejudices to shape my behaviour towards a person simply because of their name. Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.

My wife and I have a small business letting rooms in a house in Bournemouth. We recently had a room become vacant, so this morning I advertised it on a website called Gumtree. The response as usual was excellent and before long I had a couple of viewings lined up over the lunch time period.

I arrived at the building a little before the prospective tenants to make sure everything was fine and felt the familiar buzz in my pocket that signaled a new text message. I took out my phone and the following exchange occurred:

Mystery Texter;

Salam Alykom hows everything with you?

Me;

Fine thanks, sorry I don’t know who you are.

Mystery Texter;

I’m Osama

There then followed a couple of minutes without reply while I considered events. Was this a prank from one of my friends trying to make me uncomfortable? Was this really a guy called Osama? Did I want to let a room to a guy called Osama? I know! I know! I am ashamed of myself for those few moments of doubt, of…  PREJUDICE. See, it’s even uglier in capitals. I was nervous about this poor guy simply because he happened to share the same name as the most well-known of the Bin Ladens. Of course, reason tells me that there are bound to be more than one Osama – I just wasn’t expecting to meet one.

At that moment the phone rang. GULP – It was Osama. I quickly recovered composure and was prepared to invite him to come and have a look at the room when he apologised and said he had got the number of a friend wrong and texted me by mistake.

In the afternoon I let the room to a bubbly Brazilian lady, but a little bit of me wished that the guy had come for the room so I could sooth my conscience and prove to myself that I am not a racist by letting the room to him.

So next time you hear the name Newt Gingrich or even Mitt Romney and you are tempted to laugh, cut them some slack  OK?

And above all, be grateful for who you are.

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4 comments

  1. Well, with Mitt it could’ve been worse; his official first name is Willard, so he actually did adjust what he was called. And, for some reason, to “Mitt.” I admit it makes me chuckle, but my name is Kevin, which is surprisingly uncommon in my neck of the woods and has given me the occasional snigger in the process.

    Still, an interesting thought. 🙂

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  2. I have always wondered about this. I come from Cubans parents. I was named Betty…as plain as it gets. Not Elizabeth or Beatrice. Betty was not a common name in that country back in 1971. It may be today. I was born in the states. Apparently, my parents were led to believe by two docs that I was going to be a male. Naturally, they had a male name picked out for me. I AM SO thankful that I turned out to be a female because the name (I managed to never store it in my brain) was horrendous! I was told that the nurse ended up suggesting my name. I often pictured myself meeting this nurse and thanking for her for role in this matter. She kept it short and sweet. However, Betty at that time was a common name associated with elderly women. LOL.

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