In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet asks Romeo, “What’s in a name,” which is understood to mean that the essence of something is distinct from the word used to name it. For example, calling something a “chair” brings forth a visual image and associated characteristics of wood or metal and a place to sit, but the word itself is arbitrary.
Another example is a person’s name. After my life, my name was the second gift from my parents. I wasn’t able to object at the time or offer any alternatives, but I might have. I was probably about eight years old when I realized what a common name I have. There are variations on the name to play with, keeping things interesting and allowing me to redefine myself at times. I’ve been “Mike,” “Mikey,” and the more formal “Michael” to friends, relations, and colleagues. I’ve always wanted a more unique, “manlier” name, like Jack Marlow, who was my friend in Little League. However, I conducted an Internet search for “Jack Marlow” recently, and I was surprised to find out how common that name is as well.
I did another search and it revealed that some of the folks who share my name are clearly famous. They include an anthropologist, a financier, a photographer, an explorer/filmmaker, a biochemist, a world-renowned pianist, a Canadian politician, an English soccer player, and a Zionist author/radio host. And many, many more of my namesake, who are not quite so famous, show up as well, including a couple hundred lawyers. When I checked Facebook, I was amazed to see that three other members of our group, besides me, have graduated from my high school in Houston.
Two of the more infamous MBs require no search, and they probably immediately popped into the reader’s mind at the beginning of this column. There’s Bush’s FEMA Director, “Brownie,” who is blamed for failing to provide timely support to Katrina victims. And of course, the most recent, is the young man from Ferguson, Mo, who was shot and killed last year by a police officer. I was dismayed by the unwelcome sight of my name in the papers.
As a result, I’m thinking of going by “Mike” again for awhile. My hope is to be confused with the Caltech astronomy professor, who, for many years, has worked as a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is directly responsible for many recent discoveries about our solar system, including the discovery of a “tenth” planet in 2005. Well, I guess now it’s the ninth, since most astronomers no longer consider Pluto a planet. He also wrote, How I Killed Pluto and Why It had It Coming. Maybe I should visit with him about that. If he doesn’t quit killing planets, it’ll ruin our reputation!