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A big name (but it's fishy)

02 November 2006


FOR my Advent reading, I am dipping into a modern rendition of Thomas à Kempis's Imitation of Christ. It is edited by Swami Abhayananda, which promised to be an intriguing spiritual encounter between East and West. It transpires, however, from reading inside, that Swami Abhayananda was born Stan Trout, and raised in Indianapolis, in the US. West encounters Midwest.

Stan becoming Swami was a fresh start occasioned by a spiritual experience, and maybe book deals are now easier. But it is a shame he felt it necessary in himself, for name-changing, like name-calling, is an adolescent activity.

Names define nothing, least of all you.

I recently spent more than a month in the store being "Omar". There was panic in the shop. Apparently, the CEO was coming. Company policy dictates that we should always wear a name badge, and not having one myself, the manager was offering me one from his "spares" box. He wouldn't allow me "Agnes", which was my first choice; so Omar it was, and there it stayed. Nothing was different. Customers just complained about Omar instead of Simon. A name is no more personal than a number; and a number is impersonal only if you are impersonal to yourself.

Our names, however, may soon be on identity cards. This will not be for our sakes, but as a sacrifice to the insecure god of control. It will have no more value than Joseph's traipsing to Bethlehem to register. This is really a debate about trust in government; so it shouldn't be a long one.

Dame Stella Rimington, ex-Top Secret Squirrel, has criticised identity cards for being vulnerable to forgery. I think I and the world knew this already, but she's a name; so people listen. It's certainly clear the cards won't concern the terrorist, but might perhaps help estate agents confirm our identity. What a brave new world that will be.

Back in the real world, our name, like a lollipop wrapper, is a throwaway thing, containing nothing of substance. Whether No. 845, Omar or Simon, I am still glorious. Saul? Paul? Am I bothered? Was John Wayne a better actor for dropping "Shirley"? And Reg Dwight's songs would be just as fine as Elton John' s.

We accept names, for form's sake, but attach to them no importance. No one takes my name in vain! I don't have one. And maybe Jesus doesn't now, either. A schoolboy famously asked recently why the parents of the baby Christ had named him after a swear word.

I'm enjoying my Advent reading, but, for me, Abhayananda was best left as Trout. Anything else is distinctly fishy.

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