So if you're a member of Facebook and you want to show your solidarity, change your middle name to Hussein on Aug. 4.
It's interesting how names define us -- or don't -- as if your name is supposed to encompass your entire being in a few (or many) syllables, a miniature resume that allows people to sum you up upon meeting you so they know which box to put you in. Names carry family ("Oh, you're Bob's boy"), heritage ("What kind of name is that?"), religion (see previous question), gender ("Isn't that a girl's name?") and sometimes even sexual orientation ("All gay men have track lightin'. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.").
Names -- or rather, the expectations people place on those names -- are often an albatross. I can't count how many times I've been told, "You don't look the way I imagined you on the phone." Or stumbling through yet another explanation that yes, this is my real name, no I didn't change it, I'm not trying to duck my heritage, my mom gave me the name she gave me and she gets rather peeved when I bug her for a do-over. And no, I'm not adopted.
Sometimes I think life would be easier if Mom had given me a name that matched my phenotype, but then, isn't that just the ridiculousness that we attach to the social conventions of naming? The way we react to people's names tell us more about ourselves than the names tell us about the people we meet. Personally, I thought it was more interesting that the first name of Sen. Obama's mother is Stanley; hmm, I thought, that's interesting, why'd she get her father's name? (automatically assigning her name as "male," and so what does that say about the way I order the world?) Obama's middle name being Hussein? Meh. I'm more worried about remembering that his first name contains a C and keeping my fingers away from the S key when I write his last name, lest I slip from overuse (much like I put a T at the end of Chris most of the time without meaning to, because I write it so often these days). Because when am I ever going to spell it out? I'm actually putting more effort into figuring out which name is longer in old-style headline width counting, McCain or Obama, because a half-point makes all the difference in getting a headline to fit on one line or not.
So I'm thinking about names today. I'm still struggling with finding a name that I feel represents this blog, still struggling with my decision to take my husband's name when we got married years and years ago (really wishing I hadn't), still considering if I want to change my name and, if I did, what would I change it to? What story would my new name tell about me? And about the people my name and I will encounter?
Well, in any case, if you meet me on Aug. 4., my middle name will be Hussein, too.