Friday, January 03, 2014

Notes on Anthroponymy (a Slight Misnomer)

The Cure - Burn

Anyone the slightest bit familiar with the author of this post knows that names, particularly given names, perplex me (because we are one in the same; of that, you can rest moderately assured). I am aware that names serve a purpose within society, as they allow individuals to quickly identify, classify, and supposedly, relate to others. However, the tasks associated with said functions are scarcely foolproof endeavors.

A: Are you in a study group with Linda?
B: Which Lynda? The one with the 'i' or the one with the 'y'?
A: No idea, but what about her last name?
B: Why would I know her last name? We've only been in a study group for three weeks!
A: Okay, okay. Does your Linda have blue eyes?
B: First of all, she isn't my Lynda, and second, I don't pay attention to that stuff. Am I supposed to gaze into everyone's eyes these days? Is that the latest interpersonal craze?
A: Obviously not, and the thought of you doing that creeps me out, but whatever. Is the Linda in that study group short, or tall?
B: Well, Lynda's shorter than me, if that's what you mean.
A: Never mind.

While fictitious, the preceding exchange is not altogether implausible, nor especially unique. The part about not knowing someone's last name after three weeks is a stretch, of course, as I am, perhaps ironically, pretty good with names. By the second week of my first summer graduate course, for example, I had already memorized the first and last names of all the students in class, and there were quite a few. To an extent, spelling goes along with that, but as for the other stuff, such as eye and/or hair color, height, digits (fingers and toes, not telephone numbers*), rings (wedding, engagement, commitment, pre-commitment, onion, cock, etc.), jewelry, clothing style, and breast augmentation? Beyond names and basketball jerseys, I would have been incapable of divulging much to an inquisitor at that point.

Thus, in terms of memorization, names fail to bewilder me, though it should be stressed that this is by no means an innate skill. Years spent teaching have facilitated the ease by which monikers are committed to memory, even if the pronunciation of said names has proven elusive at times, owing to the inevitable difficulty encountered when two or more languages come into play. Speaking of pronunciation, true story: for an entire semester, an English professor mispronounced** my name, and I never once sought to address the matter until the final day of class. Upon being informed of his mistake, he apologized profusely and asked why I hadn't corrected him earlier, as he erroneously believed that it was something worthy of an apology, which brings us to the here and now.

What perplexes me about names is the importance placed upon them. People have utilized various pronunciations, abbreviations, alterations, and outright mutations of my given name as far back as recollection allows, and such bastardizations are of no concern to yours truly. When done creatively, playfully, and with affection (for lack of a better term, really), such efforts are readily appreciated, if not acknowledged directly. On the flip side, those who engage in nominal manipulation due to motives related to malice, subversion, or the exertion of perceived power often find themselves flummoxed, owing to his or her inability to accurately perceive the reality that their existence is irrelevant ultimately, the recipient of said manipulations is wholly indifferent toward the process, let alone the outcome.

Then again, who am I to discourage futility? (I mean, really.) By all means, call me anything you want.

P.S. Readers unfamiliar with the content of this blog may be wondering if a particular event prompted this post. If only! Because that would imply a social life of sorts, and shame on you for entertaining such idealistic flights of fancy. Longtime readers, meanwhile, will attest to my longstanding, possibly unhealthy fascination with the unimportance of names and identity.

P.P.S. Has it ever been reported that I have a hard time using the name of any person with whom I converse or correspond during said bouts of communication? Long story, so let's save that for a spinoff.

* Now that I mention it, though, I am terrible with phone numbers. Hell, I have trouble remembering my own.
** And I use that term loosely, since the pronunciation employed by the professor during that semester simply differed from the one preferred by my parents, and who the fuck do they think they are, right?

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