June 13, 2012
Quick Thoughts: Names Will Never Hurt Me
By David A. Zimmerman
Earlier this year I got a post to my wall: "What did you do to piss Al Sharpton off?!?"
As it happens, Rev. Sharpton had grown frustrated with slow and seemingly disparate law enforcement, and he began publicly pressuring police in Florida to arrest George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin to death
When Zimmerman surrendered himself to police, I had hoped the story would pass out of vogue. But then it came out that in making the case for bail Zimmerman and his wife misled the court regarding their finances and their inexplicable possession of multiple passports. So now he's back in prison with bail revoked, and headlines earlier this week read "Zimmerman's wife arrested." She's out on bail now, but the whole thing gave my wife a temporary case of the willies.
I've written elsewhere about this case and my inner angst about hearing my name associated with a possibly racially motivated crime. Suffice it to say, it's no fun these days being a Zimmerman. Back in the day, it was a point of pride: people would ask me if I was related to Bob Dylan, whose given name was Robert Zimmerman. I wouldn't say "No"; I'd say, "Not that I'm aware of," which left open the possibility that I shared a molecular connection to musical genius. These days people don't ask me about Bob Dylan; they ask what I did to cause Al Sharpton such distress.
I had a similar problem a few years back when my first book was released. When I googled myself (don't judge me) using "Zimmerman Comic Book Character," I learned that comic book writer Ron Zimmerman had recently reinvented a classic Western comic hero, the Rawhide Kid, as a gay cowboy. I had written precious little in my book about gay culture (even less about cowboys), so I was worried about confusing potential readers. (Turns out you have to have readers first before you can confuse them, so all that worry was for nothing.)
Names are interesting things: people put as much energy into selecting a name for their child as they do making their home child-ready. For centuries women surrendered their name and took another name when they got married; that happens less often now, but an interesting twist on the tradition is when both parties to a marriage join their names together, a hyphenated acknowledgment of a one-flesh union. Names are significant, covenantal, in some traditions almost sacramental.
But on a more day-to-day level, names are not so much sacred trust as they are personal brand. When my Facebook account was hacked, the hacker changed the base identity on the account to "Marlo A. Bacuz," and while I was able to recover most of the functionality of the account, thanks to the inner workings of Facebook I can never change that base identity back. That's a problem when people are googling me, which in my vain imaginations I am convinced happens all the time. It was a problem as well when Marlo A. Bacuz started trying to sell high-end hip-hop high-top shoes to all my Facebook friends. My brand took a hit that day.
Personal brand management is as interesting as names, actually, in that managing a personal brand is inherently paradoxical: it's simultaneously both all-consuming and dreadfully boring. The emotional energy I expend fretting over whether people wonder if I'm related to an alleged murdering racist is largely escapist fantasy; the more likely scenario is that most people are too preoccupied by their own emotional distractions to research my genealogy. And all the effort I put into recapturing my Facebook profile taught me more than anything that Facebook is not all that important. (Sorry, day-traders.) To the extent that my name is my brand, I think I could be convinced in most circumstances to go generic.
Ah, but name as sacrament. That's more interesting, with a greater promise. To the extent that my name is a sacrament, it is thus a sacred trust. People might think of me and remember that God is good and loving and just, or they might think of me and imagine that God is uncaring and unjust and not good. My name, to the extent that it is sacramental, carries weight. To bear it requires a kind of ordination, an embrace of the covenant implied in it.
At the fulfillment of all things, the book of Revelation tells us, Jesus whispers secret names to each of us, telling us fully and finally who we really are. In the end the sacrament is finally fulfilled and we will all dwell in grace. Till then, I suppose, we bear the burden of the names we've been given, and in so doing fulfill the will of Christ.