I Went to School with 27 Jennifers

Dear Everybody,

Years ago, my sister had a friend named "Thunder." I was in a theatre troupe for some time with a guy named "Sundance," and I had a friend in college named "Seven." These were not nicknames; these were the words on their birth certificates. Of course, we all know of someone who has christened their child with some invented combination of phonemes that isn't a recognized word at all. Such cases not withstanding, almost all common names have some legacy meaning that is no longer in popular use.

For instance, my name, Thomas, is derivative of the Aramaic word for "Twin," and it is from this that the Biblical character gets his name. It's foreshortening "Tom" means "honest" in old Hebrew. I'm also told that, in the Latin of the early Catholic Church, "Toma" was occasionally a synonym for "Infidel."

My recent breakup from a five year relationship and subsequent re-admission to the dating world has made me realize how difficult it is to really get to know a stranger. (This connects, I promise). One can simply not trust their first-blush assumptions about another person. We are such protean creatures, easily tailoring our behavior and choosing or words to create the desired impression in eager and unsuspecting strangers. Who hasn't met someone in a bar or at a party, someone full of charm and disarm who, down the line turns out to be a complete jack hole. Who hasn't had a devoted friend who, even after years, exposes a personality defect so egregious that, long after abandoning the friendship, leaves us wondering how we ever missed it in them. Wouldn't have been great if we could have known these things all along?

Psychologists tell us that we make assumptions based on others' names but I consistently find that the nominative stereotype is rarely correct. Ryan is probably not rugged or daring. Pheobe is probably not bookish. Gabriel is probably not sensitive or artistic. Jackie is probably not carefree and Edgar is probably not keeping a gimp-slave in his basement.

I think we need a new system both for getting to know people and for identifying them.

As such, I suggest doing away with names altogether. At least, I suggest doing away with the Biblically or historically inspired words that we tend to use simply to identify individuals and not for any other purpose, words like William, Olivia, Sara, Michael, Ben, Miriam and, yes, Thomas. I think we should return to descriptive, tribal-style names that identify us by some meaningful aspect of ourselves.

I don't mean that we should go back to having names like "Little Tiger," "Fleet as the Wind," or "Sits in Silence." And, I don't mean that we should somehow update such a system for a modern and industrialized world. We could hardly take each other seriously with names like, "Drives Real Fast" or "Immaculate Hairdo."

I think that one's name should be one's single worst quality. That thing, that one overriding personality trait that invariably leads a person to be palatable to certain folks but not to most others, that should be the way we identify ourselves to one another. That way, when you meet someone for the first time, you already know the worst and, if you can accept that, everything else about them is, by contrast, a pleasant surprise. Contrawise, you know from the first introduction whether this person has some deal-breaking part of themself that you would otherwise discovered only after devoting emotional energy in the befriending.

This cold be tremendously illuminating:

"Hey, do you know what Can't Keep it in His Pants and Never Shuts Up are doing tonight?"

"Yeah, those two, Thinks He's Elvis, Mild Bigot and Drowns Kittens for Fun are all going to a Fellated a Record Executive concert."

It would make the interactions between persons that are somehow so opaque much easier to understand:

"Did you hear that Always Compensating, Condescendingly Erudite and Never Been Wrong got in a big fight at the bar last night?"

Or perhaps:

"Smells Funny, and Always Flirting broke up because he caught her talking to Date Rapist. On the other hand, I think Beats His Kids is going to pop the question to Daddy Issues."

This system is not perfect, of course. One can always just lie about their name. I suspect we would all learn to be suspicious of those strangers with innocuous-sounding signifiers like, "Doesn't Use His Blinker," "Coffee Snob" or "Hugs too Hard." There are also some insidious and life-destroying character faults that large numbers of people have so there would be a lot of people named "Alcoholic," "Compulsive Materialist" and "Desperate to be Loved." We'd also have to get pretty creative or a third of everyone would be named "Ugly," "Asshole," "Dickhead" or "Bitch." Finally, it's likely that individuals' names would changes several times through their lives so I'm not sure what this would to do to tax collection but none of these things are insurmountable in the face of the benefits to our psychic wellbeing.

All that said, I've got to go. Speaks in Movie Quotes, Always Asks if She's Fat and No Tact at All asked me to go to see Can't Keep a Job's band. Be good to yourselves.


Legend in His Own Mind

1 comment:

John Myste said...

OK, no more time. Must go.

I did not read this. I just read the title.

I had three Jennifers who were girlfriends.

I call them:

Jennifer 1
Jennifer 2
Jennifer 3

Jennifer was very hot and I still think about her sometimes, but then realize I am happier with my wife, so stop. Jennifer, on the other hand, was someone I could be close to. Jennifer, in contrast, was a missed opportunity really.

If Jennifer stumbles across this, I have to wonder if she will recognize herself.