A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law was re-married in the Catholic church. After the ceremony, we went to a party at the house of a friend of the re-couple. The friend had a child, named “Ward,” and my mother-in-law (I think it was her — my memory is poor) knew the family, so she said “Hi Ward” as we were entering the house. And Ward immediately asked “How do you know my name?” From his point of view, I suppose this was a complete stranger addressing him by name, so that was a reasonable question to ask.

My AIM login is “imnotscott”. Back in the day, I went to sign up for an AOL account to use instant messenger, and when asked to choose a login, I chose “scott”. There were maybe twenty million AOL accounts at the time, and apparently one of them claimed “scott” before me. Go figure. So defeated in my attempt to be “scott” on AIM, I went with “imnotscott” instead. If I can’t be myself, I’ll be not myself. Take that AOL!

So now I have my AIM login posted in various public locations around the web, and occassionally I’ll get a message from a complete stranger. They’ll often start the conversation with something like “Hi Scott.” And my first thought is generally “How do you know my name?” But I say “Hi” instead and then seek out a little context for the conversation.

I guess names mean more when we’re younger. Our names are more a representation of our selves when there’s less of us to represent. We know our parents really know us when they call us out with our middle names, because they know all three parts of us. But over time we become something that the names don’t fully describe. When someone says “Scott Michael Reynen,” are they talking about me or the guy I was ten years ago or the kid I was twenty years ago? My name is no longer equivalent to myself.

Some day Ward’s response when someone walks into his house and says ’Hi Ward” will be more like “Hi. What are you doing in my house?” But for now he just wants to know how we know his name.