I have always wondered about names and how they come to define us to ourselves –and of course to others. Unlike Shakespeare’s rose, I’ve wondered if I would still be the me I know if I had been assigned a different one. Not different parents, not a different, randomly changed milieu, nor a different time –simply a different name. Does it define me, or has the name merely come to describe something people associate with me -Berkeleyan secondary qualities…?
But I suppose it has risen to the top of the pot recently, since I have assumed a different identity in retirement and am concerned that the name I have used all these years no longer describes anything –except perhaps the vessel that once carried it. Maybe a container is always a container, but if it now holds wine, rather than water, isn’t it better described as a flagon than a bucket? Well, at least that’s my conceit. ‘When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique’, as Alan Watts wrote in his Psychotherapy, East and West. ‘He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication.’ I had no idea retirement was so profound.
But I live in fear of being forgotten, or at least confused with someone else, so the only place where I have changed my name so far, is in Facebook. It’s not a big step, or anything. I mean they don’t ask for a driver’s license or picture ID… Okay, I did blur up a black-and-white a photograph of me in a fedora and sunglasses with a two-day beard, but he, I figure, is only a veneer. And anyway, avatars are not supposed to look like their owners –it’s my slave, for god’s sake. I don’t want to be mobbed on the street for autographs, so I posted the name as a bold question mark, a solitary initial, followed by two asterisks: ?G**. At the time, I didn’t know that anybody could find out the ID of the person who owned the avatar by simply clicking on the picture. Maybe I should have fudged my credentials a bit –signed on with yet another identity to disguise my disguise. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive…
But since we’re not talking about a foreign sounding avatar, or one that even hints at mischief, I didn’t think I’d be troubled by hate mail or propositions from the Canadian Secret Service trying to entrap me in a sting operation, or anything. And anyway, I didn’t fall into the seductively easy trap of using my nickname –that would have been a sure giveaway to anybody who knew me, especially since the one I was stuck with until about Grade 5 was the one my brother always yelled at me in the playground when he was being beaten-up by the big kids who resented his marks: Gaa. At the time, of course, I pretended it was just the sound that somebody –anybody- would make when they were being choked, and I was only responding out of charity. Actually, I think the moniker started with my father trying to save syllables when he called me. ‘Gaa’ is certainly quicker than Garibaldi… although that isn’t my name, either. That’s just how he justified it. I much preferred my mother’s solution –she simply called me ‘dear’ whenever she forgot my name.
At any rate, I figured Gaa was a nonstarter, for a serious avatar. I didn’t want it to be pegged as anything special. Not ethnic, not from away, and not suggesting any particular religious persuasion, since I have never actually been persuaded by any. And I didn’t want to use any cuddly sounding words, or remotely suspicious animals. I did briefly consider masquerading as a plant-being, but in the end decided it might be too confining. I wasn’t at all sure that ‘Triffid’ was where I wanted my identity to go, although I liked the sound.
The gender thing, confused me for a while, though. I mean, I suppose it was a chance to break free, but on sober second thought, I realized that neither I nor my avatar was in the slightest bit interested in escaping. We were both children of our eras, happily paddling around in the muck of our chromosomal assignations. Besides, I don’t have any pictures of me in a dress. Anyway, as a sop to the current passion for the degendrification of names, I assiduously avoided any pointers.
And as it happens, I’ve never liked my first name so it wasn’t a sacrifice to shed it when I retired. In fact, I tried to do just that the year I turned 12 when the family moved to a new city. My middle name is James, so I convinced the teacher to call me ‘Jamie’. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince my memory to respond to it. I suppose there really is a tide in the affairs of children, and I would be forced to resign myself to waiting for its flood.
So, once I realized that my pre-retirement life had been washed away, I figured that, like Shakespeare’s Brutus, I might be afloat on such a full sea that the rest of my voyage would not be bound in shallows and in miseries. Now, more than ever, I needed an innocuous pseudonym to blend with the unassuming photograph. Something that would draw attention to my posts, and yet not engender any unrealistic expectations. Something that any government algorithm could scan without raising alarm. Something that wouldn’t get me put on a no-fly list. In other words, I had to don my big boy pants and shed the asterisks lest they be mistaken for code.
The answer came to me in a dream. I had banged my head on a tree looking at bark, and developed quite a goose-egg. That night, I dreamed about the egg hatching and a little gosling emerging. I felt, in the way of dreams, that it should be called Gozzle, and then, as its parent, decided to shorten it to Goz. When I awakened, I realized I had been given a sign. I had closed the circle.
So, I am now Goz to my public –all 5 of them- and when one of them asked me how I came up with the word, I just shrugged and twinkled my eyes mysteriously. You have to protect your avatar’s identity, you know.