“Name?” The barista behind the counter asked without looking up from his touch-screen.
“Blythedale, with a ‘y’. Lucius Blythedale,” I answered. “Lucius Montgomery Blythedale, to be precise.”
The barista didn’t miss a beat. “One Chicken Artichoke sandwich, smoky barbecue chips, one chocolate cake pop and an ice-water. $9.70. Want a receipt, Lucius?” His eyes remained locked on his work station.
“No thanks…” I searched for his name badge but came up lacking.
“End of the counter. Next?” He with no name finally looked up.
At some point along the way a human being had actually taken the time to write my name, my customer-side-of-the-counter-name, that is; “Lucius” was printed in magic marker on my sandwich bag. Lucius here, Leonard there; using pretend counter names excites me.
Wedded to my name at birth, I’ve been called “Larry,” though my given name is Lawrence; it appears that way on my driver’s license. Until I was twelve years old I thought I’d been named for the town my Grandparents lived in on Long Island. The manhole covers on Arrowhead Lane in front of their house all said “Lawrence” and until I asked nobody seemed interested in telling me that I’d not been named for a sewer system. Lawrence with a “w” not unlike Laurence with a “u” comes from the Latin root word for Laurel, as in “to the victor goes the laurel leaves.” Thus for a while my customer-side-of-the-counter name was “Victor.”
There are many times and places when we are asked to give a name; some are important and others not so much. The counter at Starbucks in Marin where I happened to be due to a medical appointment falls into the latter category. The security checkpoint at SFO falls into the former category, though now having passed into full-fledged senior status I no longer seem to fit any terrorist threat profile and just get waved through. I don’t even have to remove my shoes anymore.
At some point in time, and I hope it is well after I’m dead and buried, using pretend names will be much harder, if not impossible. The name Lucius Montgomery Blythedale, or whatever playful variation one chooses, will not match either the voice-print, retinal scan or facial-recognition software at the 2040 version of Starbucks. Our personal mythology will be fixed at birth, not to be tempered or played with. I suppose nick-names will still be used, “also-known-as” algorithms readily available, but the chance to pretend one has another name and get away with it will have ended.
Secret names have a rich cultural history; names have power and as the story of Rumpelstilskin aptly illustrates, are even magical. Totemic cultures, such as those which identified themselves with primordial animal gods who created human beings, bestowed secret names only to be spoken by those initiated into the mysteries of creation. The biblical Hebrews hid the name of God; the ancient Celts used ciphers, codes, and scrambled words to hide secret names.
For a short while a friend of mine playfully called me Bingo; I don’t remember why. In any event, an acquaintance of his was with us one day and from then on to my friend’s friend I was Bingo. As a name I can’t say I liked it and besides, Lucius Montgomery Bingo sounds terrible.