03 January, 2020

I am what I am -- dirtysacred

on the dotted line
My given name is Michael, which means (ever so humbly) One who is like God.  But I've always gone by Mickey or, as I got older, Mick. I distinctly remember having to learn to spell both my names; I grew up not liking my "formal name." It felt like a thing separate from me;  it was someone else's name. I learned to sign it on official documents, but it never felt like my signature. I tolerated (barely) a string of doctors that tried to be my buddy by calling me Mike : a name I grew to dislike even more than my "formal" one.

There was one aspect of my dual nomenclature that appealed to me: it gave me a dual identity, a notion that set my already colorful and widely wandering imagination on fire.  Being the super hero aficionado I was,  my shared status with the whole cast of characters that helped forge my imagination: Spiderman. Superman. The Incredible Hulk. Dual identities. Spies had them, too. This was how heroes walked through the world like regular people.

Mrs. Gallagher, my high school Spanish teacher, told the class that each of us had to chose a Spanish name to be called as part of language immersion. Most people took the Spanish version of their name.  The Spanish version of my name, Miguel, didn't seem right.  Another name popped into my head; I'm not even sure where it came from, though probably from some western or another: Diego. That had flash. That had adventure. A bit of swashbuckling bluster, even. When I told her I wanted to be Diego, she seemed pleased that I took a different name. Then she told me the American version of my Spanish name was James.

I thought of this later when I chose James the Greater  (the patron saint of pilgrims) as my patron saint when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at 44 years of age.

When my dad died I got a little obsessed with the notion of names, naming, and generations. I've always been told I'm either a "chip off the old block" or a throwback to my Grandpa Parsons ... Daniel Boone Parsons, the Boone being his own addition because he believed that successful people had three names. He was also something of a fan of Daniel Boone stories, being a voracious reader.  I saw my name... Parsons... as the only connection I had left to Dad and I embodied it as best I could.

After my first marriage fell apart, my name was a burden. I felt like I let down my father's memory. And so I found another name for a while: Quill. This name, like my formal and birth names, was given to me by another. And I wore it, too, like another identity.  It allowed me to  untangle some of the other parts of my personality, some of them darker. Free of the weight of the godlike man I'd built my father up to be, I was free to be, at last a man of my own reckoning. 

And eventually that too became a burden. One day it fit; the next day it didn't. 

Maybe it was somewhere around this time that I started to think of names as something besides A Thing Designated and Bestowed.  A name could be something representative of a particular time and place in a person's life. I was Michael when I signed official documents. Michael was married. Michael was divorced. Mick was still alive and writing. I was Mickey to my mother, Mick to my friends, and had been Quill to others.  I had one friend who called me, with great affection, Papa, after a long debate over Hemingway and Jane Austen. She sometimes still calls me that, and it suits me fine enough... from her.

After my 2nd marriage disintegrated, somewhere in my travels my journal, along with my ID and bus ticket, were stolen. It took some bit of engineering to get new copies of my ID, but the ticket and journal were gone forever. And to be honest, I was far more upset about the journal than I was my Illinois driver's license.  Michael had already been divorced. Again. And who was Mick? Did it matter? I took on a few names, just to try them out. Blu. Baleu. Ozymandias (after my favorite poem). I published chapbooks under those names.

We attach so much to a name. And in spite the widespread use of screen names dating back to the blue screen days of the early internet, it's still our  "formal" names that matter more. This is less about lineage, though, than it is debt. Our financial debts are tied to it and to our social security numbers. A woman can change her name when she marries by filling out a form; a man must go in front of a judge to declare he is not hiding from any debt or court paper. 

But these are interesting times; people change their names for any number of reasons. We are becoming much more openminded about people in the process of becoming.

And yet.  And yet. 

I recently tried to join a literary discussion online and was told I had to use my "real"  name.  When I  explained I would rather use the name I have come to think of more as mine... chosen and not bestowed... dirtysacred... the moderator messaged me and informed me that he "hated to disappoint" me but that he must insist, because of the true and deep nature of the discussion, that I use  my "real" name.

I didn't argue. But I did withdraw.  I wasn't sure how any deep literary discussion could happen when people aren't welcomed as they want to be. I still don't.  But I'm not the sort to make a stink where I'm not welcome as I am.

What is a name? My father feels no disrespect; he is gone and beyond getting offended.  And if I feel that I should choose a name that reflects my life as it is instead of how others would have it be, then that name should be enough. The encroaching nature of Facebook and the damned chains of debt meant to enslave us in this capitalistic republic would discourage me from taking a new name.

What is a name? A given name is a borrowed coat and a used pair of shoes we need to get started out the door; a chosen name is what we become from what we learn while we're kicking up dust.