local_library What’s In A Name, In Four

by Dan Reilly

Published in Issue No. 268 ~ September, 2019

1. The arsonist is incarcerated many years. He speaks to no one, not at all. Few people speak to him. After awhile, guards cease even with commands. He knows where to go, what to do. He knows his number. Then, time comes for his release. His name is Wayne. Suddenly, his name means something. He must exit the prison and speak his name. Wayne feels his heart race and mouth go dry with the realization that he must speak. He thinks back on his years of silence. Was he Wayne all that time? Is he Wayne now, he wonders, slowly enunciating the name. His mother always said he was good for nothing, like when he brought Janine home and she yelled at her, asking “Why waste your time with him?” He was Wayne then. He attends a public speaking class in the prison as preparation for his new life, and contemplates a life born to arson. Maybe it wasn’t his name. That with any other name or upbringing he would have become the same cipher in this jail, even more of a cipher, somehow, if he changed his name, born to it as if enchanted or led by the shadow of a past life, re-born to fire and suffering.


2. Sponge divers surface from the discovery of the wreck off Antikythera. Wonderful and unknown artifacts circa 86 BCE lie on and beneath ocean sand. Divers die, some are paralyzed. For decades after, the site is studied and sounded in its depths. Sulla dispatched this ship to Rome, laden with spoils from the sack of Athens. Sulla’s name we know from historians as he who conquered Athens, and he who killed the Tribune Sulpicious. The name of the slave who betrayed his master Sulpicious, revealing his whereabouts as the villa at Laurentum, is unknown. The captured and enslaved man, probably a gladiator, traded information for freedom. Sulla freed him, then had him executed for the betrayal of his master. Many centuries pass and we know the story of this nameless slave who traded and lost his worthless life. Was he born to that role of betrayer and betrayed, just as the mariners were born to hold the treasures of Athens in their hands? Born to the inescapable destiny of Roman cosmology, predetermined to be known throughout history but without a name.


3. For the Nguni peoples of Southern Africa, the name of God is Nkosi, or King. God’s name is also Jah Rastarfari, Allah, Hoeland or Healer, The Unseen, and The Entirely Merciful. Sikhism has Nirankar, The Formless One, and Satnam, True Name. In ancient Hebrew, God’s name is Ehyeh or I Will Be, or as Philo of Alexandria wrote it, The Being. In Exodus 3:13-15, God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’ ” The Hindus have Vishnu Sahasar Nam, or Vishnu’s Thousand Names, wherein there is Brahman, the unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world which cannot be exactly defined. The Pazand writing system of Zoroastrianism has one hundred and one names of God, while the Jaap Sahib has over nine hundred, all manifestations of The One. The Alpha and Omega, The Unutterable . . . all names are God’s name. My name is God’s name.


4. Looking back on it, his name was inevitable, although it wasn’t even his own name at first. His parents named him after someone, so it was his namesake’s name. He grew into that name gradually through childhood games and school and then all the jobs which became a career. After he met Marissa, his name became hers like it meant something. His name became that of his daughter and son. He was father. His name was formed large and immeasurable by everyone who spoke it or heard it spoken. It was everything which happened and which did not over a lifetime of striving. Now the children have children with names of their own. Work has ended. Marissa is gone. As fewer and fewer people speak it, or hear it spoken, his name drifts backwards into The Formless, The Unseen . . . the I Am Who I Am until it becomes someone else’s name.