We are known by many names during our lifetime. Many of us have official names, screen names and pet names often conferred upon us by friends, family and lovers. If these relationships disintegrate, the names often die with them. Our identities within a certain moment or relationship are often bound up with our names.
Names define relationships. We have ‘full names’ for banks, tax and passports. We have ‘first names’ for acquaintances and ‘pet names’ for people we are close to. Recently we have begun to produce artificial identities in the digital world.
Online, we may choose different names for different activities. In the gaming world we may be known as ‘IK1LLN00Bs101’, in professional online activities we may add our profession to our names to create a brand like ‘NathanWrites’ or perhaps we sign on to a health website as ‘concerned parent’.
We are named all the time without our knowledge. The names people enter into their mobile phones when meeting a new friend or contact can be very descriptive: ‘Phil Shoreditch Glasses’, ‘Matilda Landmine’ or ‘Harry Blonde Underworld’.
Some Native American tribes believed that names can influence a person’s destiny. I hope that is not true for ‘Matilda Landmine’. When naming people for their mobile phones, we often choose the most immediate visual cues around us to them creating names that are evocative and banal in equal measure.
Our names influence our personhood. Would you feel differently about meeting ‘Phil Shoreditch Glasses’ then you would meeting ‘Phil Clapham Shorts’? Online names and mobile phone names are often conferred in the moment with little thought behind them. The identities we give to people through naming them often affects how we behave towards them. The people we associate with don’t even have to be aware of their name in your mobile phone for it to affect them.
Perhaps we should think carefully about the power we confer when we name others. The Native American’s name their tribesmen many times over their lifetime conferring appropriate powers with each name.
Maybe next time I’ll put Phil in my phone as ‘Phil of the Sparkling Eyes’. It is the least I can do after he got that fantastic bottle of wine in. Or was it because of the round of beers he bought me? Oh, no. That was ‘Phil Clapton Shorts’.