My sister-in-law, the one who was recently re-married in the Catholic church, is pregnant. Does it count as a shotgun wedding if you’re already married with children? Anyway, after her re-wedding ceremony, at the party where Ward pondered deep questions of names and knowing, people were talking about names for the upcoming child. Several names were suggested, and most discarded. But all of the suggestions were first names. They hadn’t moved on to middle names yet.

Patrick, the soon-to-be older brother, is pretty sure the child is going to be a boy. His logic is that he already has two sisters, so a boy is required to even out the gender imbalance. This boy has a future in statistics. He doesn’t quite understand middle names though. His middle name is “Julius,” and when he’s in trouble, he’s “Patrick Julius,” so he’s familiar with his own middle name.

But as the first names were suggested at the party, Patrick tried them out by testing what he assumed would be the full name of this boy. “John” became “John Julius Namoff.” “Robert” became “Robert Julius Namoff.” It soon became clear that Patrick thought all boys in his family will have the same middle name.

When he was younger, Patrick’s cousin Alex apparently had a different confusion about middle names. He once thought he had two middle names, “Ander” and “Michael.” Because when he was in trouble, his mother would say what he heard as “Alex Ander Michael,” actually “Alexander Michael.” Silly kids.

But middle names are clearly counter-intuitive. Why do we have them? Wikipedia offers a few reasons, but none of them seem worth the trouble. I think if I have a child to name, I’ll lobby hard for no middle name. If they grow up and find they don’t have enough names, they can always add more later. But I don’t really need to establish a line of royal ancestry or anything, so I don’t see any reason to give a child a third name before they have a personality to attach it to.

My friend JJ recently gave me an additional name. A while back, I made the mistake of talking about my self-diagnosis of Asperger’s. Shortly after that, JJ introduced me to another friend of his, also named Scott. To differentiate between us, he has since referred to me and introduced me as his “autistic friend Scott.” So to JJ’s friends, my middle name is effectively “autistic.” Lucky for me, anyone who knows JJ just passes right over this as we meet.

I have a similar additional name for JJ, but mine is non-verbal. Whenever I talk about JJ with people who have met him, I make sure to clarify exactly who I’m discussing by moving my hands around where my hair would be if it were as large as JJ’s. So his middle name is effectively a hand motion about four inches from the head.

My "autistic" name has a small problem: I’m not actually autistic. And JJ’s hand-wavey name has a problem whenever he gets a haircut. But I think these ad hoc additions to our family and given names are far superior to middle names. I think that’s enough about names for now. On to faces?

 

About a year after I met her, my friend Becca decided to change her name. I don’t think she ever had it legally changed or anything, but she started asking people to call her “Dora,” and we did. And suddenly she was “Dora,” and people would mention “Becca,” and I wouldn’t know who they were talking about, and then they’d say, “You know, Becca-Dora.”

I never heard an explanation of what brought about this desire to change her name. I think I asked her and she said something like “just because.” At the time, we were both studying existentialism, I as a casual student, and Becca-Dora as a philosophy major in the middle of writing a senior thesis on “Freedom and Facticity.” I couldn’t tell you what “Freedom and Facticity” means exactly, but at the time I suspected that had something to do with the name change. It seemed a sort of philosophy-in-action demonstration of how much we define our selves. If you want to be Dora, it turns out you can just start being Dora.

But at some point after we graduated, Dora decided she wanted to be Becca again, and so everyone called her Becca again. And now Dora is just a vague idea of … something. Whatever the reason was for Dora, I can only assume from the later reversal that it wasn’t a very good reason to change names.

My uncle, on the other hand, had what I think is a very good reason to change his name, but he never did. I didn’t hear this story until I was old enough to think it was odd that no one had told me earlier. But here it is: my grandparents’ first child was named “Kenneth Eugene.” This child died three days after birth. Then they had another child, and they named him … “Kenneth Eugene.” This second Kenneth Eugene is my uncle Ken.

So that’s weird, right? I’m pretty sure I would change my name if I found out I was named after my dead older brother. But I almost changed my name because it’s hard to spell, so I’m probably not the best person to judge what would be a good reason to change one’s name. Most people never change their names, but are there any social norms for those who do? I don’t see any. It’s name-changing anarchy out there. Anyone can do it, and no one does. Maybe that’s what “Freedom and Facticity” means.

 

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.

 

My last name is “Reynen.” Chances are good that you just pronounced that incorrectly in your head as you read it. Chances are also good that if I spoke it aloud to you, you’d spell it wrong. And then you’d probably pronounce it wrong still. It’s a horrible name for someone like me who is interested in efficient communication. So I’ve thought a lot about changing it.

When I was younger (is 26 old enough to say that?), I thought about changing the whole thing: first, middle, and last name. My ideas for new names were awful. “Justin Case” is one I remember. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow through on that idea. I would have had to pull a Prince and try to undo the damage.

Later, I thought about just replacing my last namewith my middle name. “Scott Michael” sounds okay. But for a long time, I didn’t know how to spell “Michael,” so I worried that wouldn’t actually solve the spelling problem. (Turns out most people could spell my middle name better than I could.) Plus, it makes me think of George Michael, and I’m not really a fan.

After that, I didn’t seriously consider changing my name until I got married. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is “Montgomerie,” which is not exactly a step up on the ease-of-spelling scale. So I kept my last name, and she kept hers, which leads to the question of what last name we might give to potential children. All I know is, it certainly will not be “Montgomerie-Reynen.” I wouldn’t inflict that kind of pain on my worst enemy, much less a child. So maybe a completely new last name would be good. Any proposals?

 

If you’re going to adopt a false identity, I think it should have the same first name as your own. First of all, no one would believe that Scott Johnson is really just Scott Reynen's false identity. We expect more of our conspirators. Also, if you should ever happen to get your real and false identities confused, it would be much less noticeable and much easier to explain if your first name was the same. "What’s this letter to … 'Scott'?" Why, it's just a letter to me. Nothing at all suspicious about that!

I realize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom on false identity name choice. I recently heard someone (I can’t remember who) say that the only funny line ever on the Family Guy was Peter Griffin trying to pretend he was someone else and when someone asked him what his name was, he said "Pe...ter.......Grif....fin..." That’s a terrible false identity, of course, but I’m suggesting that it’s only terrible because it isn’t false. After meeting the falsity requirement of false identities, I think the goal should be to keep it simple, and the best way to keep it simple is to keep the same first name.

The exception to this rule is unusual names like "Icarus." If your real first name is Icarus, your false first name should definitely not be Icarus. This is my advice to people adopting false identities. I wish you best of luck in your life of lies.

 

I believe I just discovered my Canadian double. He has brown hair, is interested in web development, specifically PHP, and his name is ... Scott Reynen. If only I had thought to patent myself, I'd be collecting sweet royalties now.