“That which we call a rose,” Juliet surmises, “By any other name would smell as sweet.”. Well, maybe not. One suspects Juliet might be less smitten if her paramour’s name were Clyde. But in fairness to our star-struck lass, she’s referring to Romeo’s surname—Montague, her family’s (Capulet) mortal enemy—not his first name.
Names. We have several. Formal names, middle names, nicknames, derogatory names we’re called. Legally, I am Gerald Anthony. I never cared for either. I still wonder, “What were Mum and Dad thinking?” But there’s rich family folklore around my naming. Mum and Dad disagreed. When a little boy, my mother called me Tony. From that, you can deduce which she favored. She lost, Dad won, hence, Jerry.
Names carry an identity with them. A recent study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem offers evidence that “the way we look is possibly impacted by the social tag we’re given at birth, one’s name.” Read the full study, “Do We Look Like Our Names? New Research Says Yes,” at the HU website.
In Secret Universe NAMES: The Dynamic Interplay of Names and Destiny, Roy Feinson postulates one’s name is indicative of her/his personality. Feinson’s thesis is that we adopt certain personality traits due to the sounds of our names.
People whose name begins with J, for example, “are capable of sober introspection and have an impudent sense of humor.” Compounding that, ending with a y or i “tend[s] to signify the more playful aspects of life.” Which apparently accounts for me, Jerry, having “even more of a mischievous twist” to my personality. But then, names beginning with J are, also, more likely to be fabulously rich. True for Jerry Seinfeld, not for me.
I suspect women have it tougher with names. Their titles—Miss, Ms., Mrs.—are more suggestive of status than a man’s. Whether she’s called Mom, Mommy, Mumma, or Mother indicates how formal she’s with her children. Traditionally, women took their husband’s surname at marriage. Some still do; others, hyphenate, use both, or simply keep their own. Nonetheless, the choices made not only indicate a values preference but also, through repetition to her ears, add to her personality. Mix that with her preference to be called Patricia, Pat, Patty, Tricia, Patsy, or Pooh and you’ll gain insight into the delightful aspects of her personality.
In psychology, that which one projects is called his/her persona; in myth, it’s our mask. We spend a lifetime donning them. Family determines some. I never begat children, so never wore the formal appellation—mask—Dad or Father. But thanks to my siblings, I am Uncle seemingly to legions. Culture and social norms determine others. Being openly gay as a teacher was taboo; hence, my career-saving straight mask.
It wasn’t unusual during second-semester conferences the conversation with my juniors’ parents would shift to what they missed out doing in life. I cannot tell you how often I heard moms and dads wistfully sigh, “I wish I had…” Life got in their ways, and they were hoping it wouldn’t for their children. But sadly, the mass of people lives, as Henry David Thoreau stated, “lives of quiet desperation,” lives concealed by the masks the individual wears. Society is a stern taskmaster.
Socrates urged us to “know thy self.” We tend, though, to identify our Self with at least one of our personas/masks. That presents a problem. Thus, understanding that becomes one’s first task especially as one enters his/her life’s last moon phase, the time to rip off life-worn masks.
In his conversation with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell repeats his mantra, the three words, the phrase, for which Campbell is famous: Follow Your Bliss.
“There’s something inside you that knows you’re in the center,” Campbell said, “that knows you’re on the beam, that knows you’re off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life.”
For an authentic older age, it’s essential to discover and nurture that true self/soul/spirit safely hidden, locked in a jewel box to which only you have the key.
That, however, necessitates one allowing her/himself to be vulnerable, the next topic we’ll explore.