Sunday, November 08, 2009

our name

if you don't know this i'll tell you: my name, esp. for one who lives in this part of the u.s., is common as the dirt we tread. there's nothing wrong with that but for those of us who also have a textual presence, whether on the page or in the pixels, a name that is like dirt can be a bit confusing. if you're like me you google for writers you want to know more of. i get a kick out of names. i like the sound of many kinds of names. my own name, richard lopez, is okay i suppose but there are many better names out there that are distinctive and frankly cool. i'd like a better name, but i'm stuck with the one i was given.

a while back at my monthly poetry get-together the conversation steered toward a younger poet who just published a few poems in a bay area journal. i mentioned that i liked the poet's name and explained why i like it. the first name was a bit unusual and harkened, at least in my mind, to a revered pop culture icon while the surname was common, like mine, but strengthened by the weight of the first. the combination turned to one cool sound. but then i was reminded by one of my seat-mates that the poet's name was given by the parents and the poet had no choice.

which is and isn't true. for some of us we create our names. william faulkner inserted the letter u back into his surname, after his grandfather took it out, when he began to publish. e.e. cummings decided to go completely lower-case with his name and his writings. see what i mean, names are both a conscious act and a settlement with what we are given by our ancestors.

recently my younger brother told me he googled my name and found page after page of my writings. i was surprised by this and pleased. i asked if he had any trouble finding my poems. nope, they were the first things that popped up. i have self-googled but i rarely do it now. i was surprised not by the sheer numbers of those who possess the name of richard lopez but that there is a jazz musician, a landscape painter and so on.

but then names are our individual markers. it was what i'm known by. however, unusual your name might be someone else probably also has the same. e.g. once at work i came across the name ellsworth kelley, which is a slight variation of the name of the painter ellsworth kelly. i was taken since i thought that the painter's name was so unique but no, some one also shared it.

which pleases me enormously. all these thoughts come bidden after reading this post by irish poet billy mills whose name is shared by another, and arguably more famous, billy mills. what's in a name, shakespeare asked. i say everything. names are malleable but they are what we are. not only are our names represent how we are known in our respective world(s), they are the texts that we write in our minds and our bodies. change your name and you might change who you are.


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