The Power of a Name

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the central characters of a Christian Bible story. They walk into a fiery furnace and then emerge unharmed. These characters took central stage in a church sermon I heard once about cult-behavior and the three tactics used to turn someone away from god.

  • Change their names.
  • Cut them off from their family.
  • Force them to denounce their god.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to denounce their god, which is credited with saving them from the flames of the furnace. Ironically, the names we know these characters by are the new names bestowed on them by King Nebuchadnezzar who wanted them to bow down to him.

This sermon has stuck with me for 30 years. I remember spending some time being afraid of cults. I was a child of the 90s, after all, when the devil lurked at every corner daycare.

No one had to ask me to reject the god of my childhood. I took that step all on my own.

No one had to forcibly cut me off from my family. I did that, too, when they were no longer a healthy presence in my life.

And what about the name change?

We are surrounded by name changes every day.

  • Parents give their children nicknames.
  • Sports team members give each other nicknames.
  • Romantic partners bestow pet names on one another.
  • Roughly half of people who get married change their last name.
  • People append their names with abbreviations reflecting their education.
  • Religious leaders take on titles like Reverend, Father, and Sister.

All of these are seen as generally positive.

However, even in these innocuous name changes, you can see the similarities to the warning I received about cults.

  • Pet names and nicknames designate belonging/ownership in our intimate pairings.
  • Within a team or organization a nickname means you are included.
  • A marriage name change signifies a transfer from one family to another.
  • Job and education-related changes mark the completion of one part of your life.

Most name changes aren’t literally about denouncing what has come before, but they most definitely convey important information about the person you’ve become.

Name changes are common in some of the subcultures I’ve participated in and marginalized groups I’ve been around. As a Pagan, it was common for my friends to take on new names to signify their Pagan-ness. The name might be chosen by them or bestowed by a religious leader. It might represent something they feel they already are or something they want to strive towards.

In the Burning Man culture, it is popular to take a “burn name”. This name typically represents something about how the person interacts with burn culture and can be chosen through some kind of hilarious group effort.

Several transgender people I’ve known have chosen a new name that better reflects their experience of their gender.

Whether or not to make the name a legal change is dependent on many factors. Burn names are usually reserved only for use during burn-related activities. Some Pagan names are secret names used only in ritual, and some are used full time. A transgender person’s ability to legally change their name may be blocked by legal obstacles. Legally changing your name costs money, time, and effort that not everyone has.

Once you start thinking about the power of name changes, more implications arise. People make judgement about your based on your name. They make guesses about your gender, your economic class, your age, your race, your nationality, your religion, your job, your education level, your intelligence.

When someone wants to belittle someone or discredit them, one of the first things they do is change the name of their victim. They can pretend to forget their name, turn it into a diminutive, purposefully call them a name of the wrong gender, pretend to flub the pronunciation (especially when foreign), use their last name (or mr, mrs) to maintain distance. Not every time someone messes up a name is it malicious, but it always conveys some kind of information.

I came round to thinking about the lesson of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego recently when I watched an episode of Veggie Tales. Veggie Tales is a Christian cartoon for children, but it is popular and is viewed even by children in non-Christian homes. The Veggie Tales episode used the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to talk about peer pressure. Imagine my surprise when the show referred to the faithful boys as “Rack, Shack, and Benny”. That’s a little bit of irony there, that a show about keeping faith would bastardize the characters’ names a second time in the service of making the show more palatable to children.

The sermon about King Nebuchadnezzar the cult leader has stuck with me because it contained a heady truth – controlling the name of something gives you power over it. I have used this to my advantage – I chose my own name and made it legal, which had a powerful effect on my identity. And I also keep an eye out for the way language changes in political and social discourse. When language changes, power shifts – it’s worth it to pay attention which way it’s shifting.

Knoxville Anarchist Library Mobile (KALM)

The Knoxville Anarchist Library Mobile (KALM) is a traveling lending library. You can invite the library to attend your event, or you can find us at one of our regular locations.

KALM carries material on anarchism, socialism, communism, liberation, revolution, any anti-oppression topics, or on any marginalized groups or cultures. We accept donations of books, zines, magazines, and other media. We accept donations of money which is used exclusively to purchase books from AK Press, a worker-run collective that publishes and distributes radical books.

The best way to keep in touch with us is through our Facebook page. You can message us through the page to schedule the library to come to you, and you can be notified when we are making an appearance elsewhere.

Here’s what’s currently in the library:

BOOKS

  • A Rule is to Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy by john & jana
  • An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre – by Paul Avrich
  • An Encyclopedia” Experiences of Black People in Knoxville, Tennessee 1944 – 1974 by Robert J Booker
  • Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas Volume 3, The New Anarchism (1974-2012)
  • Anarchism in Latin America by Ángel Cappelletti
  • Anarchist Voices by Paul Avrich
  • Anarchy In Action by Colin Ward
  • Atheism: What’s It All About? by Larry S Rhodes
  • Black And White: images from the archives of Liberation News Service Photographer Howard Epstein
  • Blood of Emmett Till, The – by Timothy B Tyson
  • Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens by Richard D Wolff
  • Chomsky for Beginners by David Cogswell, Illustrated by Paul Gordon
  • Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice – by Jessica Gordon Nembhard
  • Communist Manifesto, The – by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles
  • For a Libertarian Communism by Daniel Guérin
  • Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, And Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980
  • God and the State – by Michael Bakunin
  • Guy Debord by Anselm Jappe
  • Homage to Catalonia – by George Orwell
  • How We Shall Bring About The Revolution: Syndicalism and the Cooperative Commonwealth by Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget
  • Joyful Militancy by Nick Montgomery and carla bergman
  • Marxism: Essential Writings – edited by David McLellan
  • May Made Me: An Oral History of the 1968 Uprising in France by Mitchell Abidor
  • My Disillusionment In Russia by Emma Goldman
  • New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism
  • Radical Unionism: The Rise and Fall of Revolutionary Syndicalism – by Ralph Darlington
  • Russia In The Age of Modernisation and Revolution 1881 – 1917 by Hand Rogger
  • Selections From the Prison Notebooks – by Antonio Gramsci
  • Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense
  • Socialism: A Very Short Introduction – by Michael Newman
  • The Anarchists: From Diderot to Camus, from Theoreau to Vanzetti
  • The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution
  • The Future of the Earth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development for Children
  • The Movements of Movements edited by Jai Sen
  • The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Final Public Speeches of Subcommander Marcos
  • Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
  • Unearthing Seeds of Fire: The Idea of Highlander by Frank Adams
  • Unruly Equality: US Anarchism in the 20th Century – by Andrew Cornell
  • Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum by David Pilgrim
  • What Is Property? by PJ Proudhon
  • Written In Blood: Courage And Corruption In The Appalachian War of Extraction
  • Worms Eat My Garbage: How to set up and maintain a worm composting system by Mary Appelhof

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Prisoner 155: Simón Radowitzky by Agustín Comotto

MAGAZINES

  • Rethinking Schools Vol 32, No 1
  • The Mother Earth News No. 5
  • The Mother Earth News No. 12
  • The Mother Earth News No. 16
  • The Mother Earth News No. 17
  • The Mother Earth News No. 18
  • The Mother Earth News No. 19
  • The Mother Earth News No. 20
  • The Mother Earth News No. 21

ZINES

  • Anarchist Olympics II: preparing for the fall…
  • Bitter feels: A non-binary femme affirmation zine
  • Dynamic Freedoms: Our Freedom Documents
  • How To Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety
  • Radical Domesticity #6
  • Revolution in Oz
  • Shit’s Fucked: a positivity guide
  • Shit’s Fucked: a positivity guide
  • The Family Fun Manual Vol IV Rainy Day Craft Projects For When Your Country Has Elected a White Supremacist Who Openly Brags About Sexually Assaulting Women
  • To Change Everything: an anarchist appeal
  • what are you raising them for?
  • Whither Anarchism? – by Kristian Williams

DVDs

  • Symbols of Resistance: A Tribute to the martyrs of the Chican@ Movement

CHECKED OUT

  • 4/19/18 We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It by Robert Graham
  • 4/19/18 Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray
  • 5/17/18 Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning
  • 5/27/18 America Beyond Capitalism by Gal Alperovitz
  • 5/27/18 Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End It by Shane Burley
  • 5/27/18 The Soul of Black Folk by WEB Du Bois

 

I’ve Discovered Where I Keep My Fucks

I’ve never had that many fucks to give. And I’ve also always given way too many fucks. It’s a conundrum. It’s that I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I’m an asshole thing that’s kind of hard to explain unless you, too, are a ball of depression/anxiety/badassery, and then you get it.

One way or another, I’m pretty sure I’m giving fewer fucks as I get older.

I am trying to give better fucks in specific, targeted ways. I want to care more deeply for the things that really matter to me, and I want to let everything else slide. Everything else can just fuck right off.

As I go through this process, I notice that my hair is getting shorter and shorter.

Is that where I’ve been storing my fucks?

I remember sitting with a friend, oh – fifteen years ago – and wondering why older women always had terrible short haircuts. What happened when you became a mom that made you cut your hair? We were both sitting there with long, curly, full hair pretty sure we’d die before chopping it off.

Here I am on the other side of forty with it buzzed down so far the only next step is literal baldness.

The first chop was right after my son was born. I had dreadlocks, which require more maintenance than you might think. I live in a humid valley, and keeping my dreads dry was a challenge. My son was born in June, and I was sitting in the heat one day and said, “fuck it” and there went the dreads.

It got shorter and shorter over the next 7 years until last week I was sporting a short little mohawk. Then I had a fight with my partner, and a fight with myself, and I was thinking all these things about sex, and love, and commitment, and identity, and self, and I felt certain that I would feel better if I just buzzed the rest of my hair right off.

So I did, and I do (feel better), and I also feel pretty unencumbered like the last of my fucks just floated right away.

Nobody compliments my new hair cut, and I am delighted and amused by this. I feel strangely free.

Women’s hair is tangled up with sexuality. Short hair is always a bit of a transgression. My younger self couldn’t imagine ever wanting short hair, but my younger self couldn’t imagine being so emotionally done with sex, either, and yet here we are.

As a woman who was sometimes mistaken for a boy as a child, who stopped shaving my armpits over 20 years ago and well before it was trendy, and who then became fat, I feel like I’ve been experimenting with the concepts of beauty and attractiveness (and the lack of them) my whole life. It always seems like there’s no further to fall away from social expectations, and then there always, always is.

I’ve given up on all the fucks I stored in my hair. I had no idea how much different this me would be from the me fifteen years ago.

I wonder where I am currently storing the fucks that I’ll give up between now and the next fifteen years from now?

Reach Out And Touch Someone

I made three phone calls today.
Congratufuckinglations, right?
Three phone calls to friends and family to have conversations about nothing, whatever, this and that, and whatnot.

I used to have phone conversations all the time… when I was, like, 13. What happened? I have a lot of anxiety around the phone. But, you know, I have a lot of anxiety around being lonely, too.

So it’s kind of crucial that I make some kind of connection.

Facebook wasn’t cutting it (9 days off now). Texting doesn’t quite feel complete. It’s too small talky or something.

So I have to make these phone calls today. Three phone calls. About 40 minutes of talk time, at the most. Pretty casual. Only one of them was awkward, and that’s just because I couldn’t hear her very well. But I got through it, and presumably I’ll get better at the whole thing.

One thing I realized about Facebook is that it distracts me and prevents me from being a good friend. I read your posts, I click like, I leave a drive-by comment, but then I don’t call you or come over. I only consume the parts of you that you put out in public. We don’t build any intimacy together.

So quitting Facebook is only one half of an equation for me. The other half is figuring out how to reach out and be a good friend.

Right now I’m starting with phone calls and seeing where that leads.

If No One Looks At My Salad Is It Still Beautiful?

The first time I performed a Wiccan ritual I addressed the God and Goddess and was hit by the powerful thought, “Who the fuck am I talking to?”

And that began the long process toward calling myself an atheist, although that journey passed through an intense decade of Pagan practice, with a side dish of awkward as I attempted to shoehorn my atheism into the practices of other people’s polytheism.

Here it is a full two decades after that first WTF moment, and I’m trying to get back to talking to things that aren’t there.

I feel alone, and the world feels dead, and I’m no longer as interested in what is capital-T True as I am in satisfying, meaningful, transformative results in my own life and for the world around me.

I will fucking talk to ANYTHING if it will make me feel connected to the world.

Seven days ago I quit Facebook, and it’s been rough, let me tell you. I have been fully plugged in to social media for long enough that it feels like an instinct to post what I’m thinking. When I have a thought I want to post I’ve started sending it one-on-one to a friend instead. I want to create conversations instead of broadcasts.

I created a beautiful salad the other day. All the pieces colorful and arranged in a pattern before mixing them all up. I wanted to take a picture and post it. To who? I couldn’t think of a friend I wanted to tell or a conversation I wanted to start about my salad.

When I post on Facebook who the fuck am I talking to?

It’s no one, isn’t it? It’s no more anyone than the deities I once addressed in ritual.

And while some people may type in some response to my photo of my beautiful salad, that response isn’t really meaningful is it? It doesn’t build anything between us. It doesn’t move our souls. We don’t even remember it 30 minutes later.

I will talk to anything if it will make me feel connected to the world.

Which is why I’ve spent so long talking to the imaginary people in my Facebook feed. People I rarely see in person. People I have little in common with. People I don’t have anything real to talk about with.

Is it any less valuable to talk to the trees and the sky and the dirt?

Is it any less “true” or “real” if I believe they say something back?

Does it matter?

If I somehow end up feeling connected to the world and treating the life around me (including mine) in a way that is nurturing, nourishing, and joyful then it absolutely does not matter who the fuck I’m talking to.