The Meaning of a Name

“I have given you my soul; leave me my name.”

So was the protest of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Forced to admit to a witchcraft he was not guilty of, all he had to do in order to save his life was sign his name on a court document. But that act, to him, destroyed the meaning of the title “John Proctor” that he worked all of his life to create. He would sell his soul to live, but to live with a tarnished name was a fate worse than death, so he chose to hang.

Forgive the grim example, but no better one comes to my mind that to express how important a name can be, and I think no other time in history has a name held such implications as it does now. Through most of human history, a name has been something a parent has given to its children to go along with the family name. Sometimes it’s chosen because it sounds nice or fitting. Sometimes there’s a story behind it. But always, a person has had to take a name not chosen by them and give it a new meaning through their own actions, or reject it. I doubt the Jones’ family thought that David Robert Jones would stun the world with his songs as David Bowie.

But in the age of the internet, the anonymous username became a standard within the cultures that exist within that network. Suddenly, the opportunity to choose our own name for a public space became more normalized. That username becomes our brand, an alternate identity, or a third name we respond to. We stake our online identities on it as we write, tweet and play. Some punched in a throwaway name,  and others created one that reflected who they are.

I think Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng is a good example of the latter. Taking on the name of a sleight of hand, Yiliang wanted his online identity, the name he would bear in League of Legends, to reflect himself. He had a hobby performing magic tricks with playing cards, the simplest being the double lift. With a simple flourish, he performed magic. In a way, it reflects himself as a player: he’s not a cerebral mastermind like Hai “Hai” Du Lam, but his movements within the game are so fantastic, they strike the same awe into the viewer as his card tricks.

I am lucky (or unfortunate) to have meaning to both of my names. My mother named me Colin, after her best friend in high school. He was like a brother to her; a brother with the habit of calling her a “sexy wench.” He died in his early twenties while on the job as a firefighter, and it was only then was my mother made aware of his infatuation with her. When she had her first son, no one was going to stop her from giving that name to me.

CD-Mangaka was a name I created when I was about 13 and setting up my Playstation Network account. It replaced my throwaway username “24Goku.” I was working toward becoming a cartoonist: I had bought so many books, tools, and worked to try and improve my craft. I wanted to tell a story with characters I created, and have that story follow suit with the mangas I enjoyed at the time. Being 13, I was delusional enough to think that “Combat Delinquents” was a good name for a manga, despite none of the characters being delinquents. As I was trying to emulate the style of Japanese artists, I thought it appropriate to refer to myself as a mangaka. I would have been Combat Delinquents’ mangaka, if were not for me dropping the nib pen to wield the keyboard and write in high school. I still dream of sharing those characters with the world, but I’ve adapted the means to be as a novel. I suppose I should consider the moniker “Fraudulent Mangaka.”

What meaning does your name hold? What meaning do you want it to hold?

Cover photo: Screenshot