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Hyperion August 26, 2004

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Proudly heralded since 1895”

#312 What’s in a Name?

Today is a special day for me. I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks, as I do every year. I marked the days off on the calendar. I planned what I would do: get up early or sleep in? Maybe I’d just stay awake the whole day so I wouldn’t miss a minute of it. I considered a party, but that seemed too ostentatious. I thought about hint-dropping to friends for presents, but I have you: the Hyperion Nation. What more could a man ask for? I even thought about asking Carnivus to write a guest column, a story just for me. Unfortunately, Carny is in Athens right now, staying in the Olympic Village with the gymnasts, swimmers and beach volley-ballers. You see the problem commanding his attention. (Although, he did send a card. It is a photograph of the Romanian female gymnasts having a bed-time pillow fight. The card reads (in part): “Wish I were here. Oh, wait: I am. Love, C.K.”) Nonetheless, I am excited, for today I turn 9.

Over the years, many have asked if Hyperion is my real name. It is. Some also asked if it is the name I was born with. It isn’t. At least, not 28 years and change ago, though I don’t remember that time too clearly. I do—vividly—remember another time, another birth. Nine years ago today Hyperion was born and he has never looked back.

Before I continue with my personal story, I’d like to talk about names. This actually comes up all the time for me, most recently in my Fantasy Football League. Some people question my ability, my right—my sanity—to be called Hyperion. It would seem a short history lesson is in order.

We live in a world dominated by the first, last, and sometimes middle names. It wasn’t always this way. It is, I believe, because of those all-important Identity numbers that the names have become so untouchable. You see, the government wants to track you. They want to make sure you behave yourself, but more importantly, they are terrified you will get some money without giving them a cut. This is why your name has become so integral to the world we live in. Heredity and record keeping are other factors, but we’ll get to that.

Before modern times, there was a long and rich history of name changing in various situations. One of the biggest was (and still is, in some parts of the world) religion. Your first name is often called your “Christian” name. The reason for this is that when early Christians converted the Heathens (often at sword-point); the new Christians received a brand spanking new name. (Some feel this was done in the honor of Paul, who was once Saul.) Even after the upon-pain-of-death-conversion ceased to be a motivating factor, name changing was still prevalent in the Christian Community. To this day the Roman Catholic Church gives a new name upon Confirmation, and in some places it is the only name the person uses.

Of course, I use Christendom to illustrate with a familiar brush, but many—if not most—religions do this as well. Perhaps most prominent (to us) is Islam, where upon conversion those born without a true Muslim name often choose one to mark their new faith. (As anyone older than 45 knows, when the world lost Cassius Clay and gained Muhammad Ali.)

Religion isn’t the only reason people have historically changed names. Sometimes entering a new culture necessitated it (Ellis Island, anyone?), although this was often done involuntarily. Royalty is another group that’s forever collecting new names. Upon moving higher or lower in the chain, often Lords and Ladies acquire new or at least additional names. Finally (and I’ll come back to this later), in many cultures, ascension to a higher level—whether it is coming of age, mastering a skill set, or joining some prestigious or secret society—gives birth to a new name.

Today new names are much less common. Strangely, the only group of people whose members regularly change their names are actors. (Who would have thought they would ever show us the way?) Changing names now is almost illicit, with the presumption that the changee is running from unsavory circumstances.

This isn’t true across the board, though. Many go by nick-names, middle-names, initials, or most common of all, a version of their given first names. These diminutives have become well-established and familiar, but if you think about it, are often arbitrarily chosen. After all, it is not the Divine Will of the Universe that Tom, Dick, and Harry flow from Thomas, Richard, and Harold.

I myself have often been criticized for turning my back on my birth name; disparaging my parents’ choice. I find this criticism not well thought through. I have nothing against the name originally given. It is one of parents’ first responsibilities, and mine did well. But just as I outgrew childhood (more or less), I outgrew my name, and came into another.

To me, there is nothing more personal than how you’re called. With apologies to Romeo1, names do make a big difference. Often it is by association. (And if you doubt me, I dare you to name your next dog Adolf Hitler or your next cat Jesus Christ. Or, prove me wrong: name your child one of those.) Word association is an irrevocable skill. We associate words with other words; with things to give meaning. That’s how you’re able to read this right now. Our symbols become real, and our reality becomes symbols.

Beyond that is how words feel coming out of your mouth, how they look on paper. I made fun of a study Monday (#311 Potpourri, Volume XXIX) about certain names sounding sexier, but we all inherently believe this, even if we do not all agree on a standard set of criteria.

We already choose how to dress, how to style our hair (within genetic limits) and what we do for a living. It follows logically that in the most integral part of what we show the world—our very name—we should have a say in this. Honestly, in this age of craving individuality, I’m surprised there isn’t a bigger push to allow—even encourage—people to, upon reaching adulthood, choose how they will present themselves to the world.

Now, after that wonderful articulate argument, I’m going to ruin it all by telling a bit of my story. The summer of ’95 was when I first heard the name Hyperion. (Upon more mature consideration, it seems almost certain that I had heard the name before, but I honestly thought I made it up, and it is conceivable though unlikely that it came to me independently.) It came about when my two little sisters asked me who my favorite sibling was. At that point in time (he stressed), this was an easy call: my brother Achmed. However, to keep the peace, I told them it was my brother Gumpy, the Brother I never had.

(As a side note: while the eldest may have puzzled it out, the youngest did not, which led to years of confusion on her part. It has also led to many family in-jokes, and now Gumpy even gets a stocking.)

Anyway, the girls went on to ask me my favorite aunt—Aunt Calliope—and then my favorite grandparent. Again, I went for the safe route and made someone up (I thought): Grandpa Hyperion.

Over the next few weeks I started talking about an essay I’d written in high school (an essay that garnered so much scholarship money I’d blush to reveal the figure). The essay was a humorous take on making the world a better place. I decided the easiest way to do this was simply to take the world over, starting with Iceland. I found it to be a good topic of conversation (chicks love benign dictators), so I brought it up often. Somehow it began to seep into my soul.

At the same time, I couldn’t get that name I thought I made up out of my head: Hyperion. Slowly, the two ideas began to merge. (This may sound crazy, but you wouldn’t expect less of me.) At some point the two concepts slid into place like an interlocking jig-saw puzzle. A voice—I can’t tell you for sure if it was God, EVON2, Taf3, one of the Magic Pygmy Rabbits4, or any of the other voices that regularly take up residency in my head—spoke to me: “Under this name you shall conquer.”

At that moment something clicked. And though I tried to pass if off as delusions, pizza-afterburn, too much Wheel of Time or too little sleep, the idea wouldn’t go away. It kept growing within me, and by the time I returned to college for the new semester, I knew what I had to do. I felt like I had a religious experience. I felt like I was coming of age. I felt like I was ascending a throne (a metaphorical throne, but that was only temporary).

The first week back at school I gathered my three closest friends: Jay, Scott, and Ed (and for once I’m using their real names in case you want to check with them). We went to eat at Rally’s, and we were outside sitting beneath a table. (Actually, that doesn’t look right. Sounds like we were building a small fort. We were sitting at a table beneath a big umbrella. That looks better.)

“Guys,” I said, “I have big news.” I went on to tell them of my summer: the essay, the name and the profundity of my Awakening. On August 26, 1995, I officially became Hyperion the Conqueror.

Of course, I promptly shaved my head, wore robes around campus, and started a tongue-in-cheek cult that ended disastrously (remind me to tell you about that some time). And, to be honest, my plans to take over the world have not proceeded on the strict timeline I set up. (I was supposed to take over at 27, and at one point, the plan called for getting assassinated at 28.)

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. My enemies are legion, but the Hyperion Nation ever grows. However, whether or not my visage ever graces your coin, the name remains. It was the most profound experience of my life, and led to who and where I am today (admittedly, nowhere, but still). Would that I could give that same gift to each and every one of you. Not the world-domination thing, for the carnage would be overwhelming, but the singularity of purpose.

Maybe I can’t give you that (yet). But, I can give you the knowledge of what might be, what could be and what is in a name.

Hyperion the Conqueror
August 26, 2004

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
EVON stands for the Eternal Void Of Nothingness. It’s what I joke my Atheist friends believe in.
Taf is the evil pig-god I first wrote about in #291 The Pig and the Pulchritude.
The Magic Pygmy Rabbits currently run the world, and as such are my main competitors.

Thanks to Tootsie and Laureate for Editing
Thanks to Jay, Scott, and Ed
Thanks to Jadrian for listening
Thanks to my Fantasy Football League
Thanks to God, or whomever

Motto Explanation
Hyperion came about in 1995. I thought at extra hundred years added cache.


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