There are few things in this world as arbitrary as any given human’s relationship with their name. Well, really, any given anything’s relationship with its name, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll limit ourselves to humans.

In light of this fact, it’s pretty ridiculous that we hold names in such high regard. One lousy story from your mother about how she, “couldn’t decide on a name until she looked into your eyes and just knew you were a Rodney”, and suddenly your entire life is carved out like some magical road of phonic destiny.  “Sarahs” are princesses…”Kevins” are gentle… “Davids” herd sheep (or something). These meanings are all attached to religious or mystic constructs that were barely important to generations that were barely important to our grandparents. So why are they so important to us?

Every time you hear about a pregnancy, the first question people ask is, “boy or girl?”, followed almost immediately by, “have you thought of any names yet?”.  True, this is just polite chit chat, but I also think it’s due to the fact that we all know on some level that naming the thing is the best part.  Really, after you’ve named your child, it all goes downhill.  This is true power, and it lasts for as long as the kid lasts. That’s why people take so long deciding – you’ll undoubtedly get sick of the kid within the first couple months, so if you’re sick of the name just as fast, you might as well abort the thing now.  Yup – you get to name it and then you get to convince it that that name had some sort of special meaning…you’ve never felt so powerful in your entire life.

I don’t think this is true of the entire world – again, this is just what I witness in your average, middle class, unimportant North American existence.  Which is part of why it’s so dangerous – names are seen as a way to distinguish ourselves. If you have a unique name, your path is pretty well set.  This doesn’t mean you are in any way contributing to society…but people will consider you five seconds longer (or something) than they would a Kristen or a Johnathon. If your name is one of those, you better get to work because you have a lot to prove, asshole.  This is not your fault.  This is your name’s fault.  Your future employer may have sat next to a kid in elementary school with your name who also ate their own snot.  You may share a name with the ex-girlfriend of your soulmate, and the constant reminder will drive you both mad, until you eventually break up and die alone.  These are realities we all have to live with, and we have to live with them because we all believe we can tell something about a person by their name.

But we can’t.

Just as you can discern the intellect of a child by how they name their pet, I can usually tell my closest friends by how many nicknames they will tolerate.  I have yet to be friends with a human who has any real attachment to their first and/or last name in its purest form.  One should be open to any blending of their names – and if they concede their middle name(s) to my vindictive little fun house of mind games, we’re almost guaranteed to remain friends for at least two years (or something). Likewise, I would never consider dating someone who wasn’t at least a little open to me re-naming him.  How else am I going to convince him he misheard me when the name I call out isn’t his? (*high fives the mirror*)

For this reason, I’ve turned the names of others into mind games. There are a lot of terrible things about me, but if I really think about it, the fact that I play these games is the worst one. You can play these games with yourself, you can play with a friend…really, I care less about what you do with these games than what you call yourself while you play them.

Game #1: Choose your own inflection.
This game is best to implement naturally – specifically if you have several people by the same first name in your office or family, thus allowing you to quickly concoct false justification for your actions. Beginning with a monotone voice, state the subject’s first and last name during all encounters. Repeat it when running into them in the kitchen. Repeat it when passing them in the hallway.  The more mundane the run in, the more disturbing they will find it that you are speaking to them so “formally”.  After several weeks of this behaviour, begin varying the intonation on the first and/or last name ever so slightly.  Your intent will be lost on them, and they will begin eagerly anticipating how you say their name next.  Note: this game can prove dangerous.  For example, one subject thought I was flirting with them, while another ultimately thought I was planning their professional demise. Good times.

Game #2: Who’s your daddy (and what does he do)?
This game requires four steps:

1. Experience one of the following two life events:
(a) Be a female who has been convinced that a wife has to take her husband’s last name, get married, and then get divorced (but don’t change your name back).  I call this, “the Dorothy Parker”.
(b) Have some other reason* for changing your surname to something other than what you started with.
*You can get creative here…what do I care…

2. Once you have engaged in one of the above two events, attend a party or function where you run into someone who:
(a) Recognizes your last name as belonging to someone they worked with, are related to, hated once, or banged in college (hopefully not all of these, but you never know).
(b) Has the same last name as you.

3. Listen to said individual try to trace your lineage while you casually deny everything and double-fist triples. You legit don’t know the answers to any of their questions, and you don’t even have to try.

4.Watch them finally give up on you…and on everything they once understood about life.

Game #3: Let’s change that, shall we?
This game is pretty simple. All you have to do is learn the person’s name, and call them something else.  While seemingly very simple, it actually takes a very skilled gamesman to play this in a way where no one gets hurt (i.e. you don’t get fired or slapped).  The trick? Confidence.  If you’re confident enough, you can turn any Ryan into a Patrick. Rachel will soon answer to Darla. When you are truly skilled, try to work in the “call them the wrong name, and then correct yourself with an even wronger name”.  Double the insults, double the fun.

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