Monday, November 27, 2006


"And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?" Judges 13:18

“I know you. Your name is Con but you call yourself Dean,” boomed the immensely corpulent, bullish man, as he loomed over me, sending flecks of spittle careering off his bulbous lips across the table. Pounding the coffee-stained table with his hands, sending aftershocks down the grain he continued: “and yet you expect to have an opinion.” At that time, Thea Halo, eminent author of the book “Not Even My Name,” was about to arrive in Australia and in all the ensuing floating around of impossible ideas, tempers were bound to be frayed.
However, the above-mentioned expostulation launched me upon an interesting train of inquiry. Names of course, were our first technological attainment, employed if you believe Darwin, when primitive man refined his glottal contractions to such an extent as to be able to direct the articulation of his gruntings into euphonious sound-bites that conveyed a meaning or if you believe God, when he provided his injunction to Adam to name the beasts of his creation. However, it would be presumptuous for us humans to claim the invention of the name as a distinguishing label for a thing, person, and even an idea or concept. Apparently, our mammalian cousins the dolphins are also perennial users of symbolic names. Individual dolphins have individual whistles, to which they will respond even when there is no other information to clarify which dolphin is being referred to.
Proper names function in the same way as common nouns do in many natural languages. Philosophers have thus often treated the two as similar in meaning. In the late nineteenth century, Frege argued that certain puzzling features of both names and nouns could be resolved if we recognized two aspects to the meaning of a name a sense, which is equivalent to some sort of description, and a referent, the thing or things that meet that description. So the sense of dog might be "domestic canine mammal", and the referent would be all the dogs in this world. Proper names would then be special cases of nouns with only one referent: the sense of Aristotle might be, "the author of De Sensu et Sensibilibus", while its referent would be the one person, Aristotle himself.
Some beings have so many attributes that they can have an infinite number of names. It is for this reason that there exist in Islamic thought, 99 names for Allah, whereas in Judaism, it is held to be blasphemous to utter the name of God, a reverent euphemism, Elohim, being preffered. Knowledge of a name seems to invoke knowledge of that being’s intrinsic essence. Thus, in many religions it is held that if you know the name of a person, you have special powers over it. In many religions, the true names of deities are not known. The real name of the Egyptian god Ra for example, was known to none, until the goddess Isis forced him to reveal his name to her and gaining mastery over him, brought her husband back to life.
This is a necessary preface to that which I am about to attempt next, which is to divulge the truth about my true name, thus permitting diverse readers of this august publication to attain utter mastery over my paltry existence. As a consequence of a concatenation of events stemming from the fact that I am a Greek born in Australia, I am not exactly possessed of a true name.
Early on in my conception, it was determined that should I turn out to be a male of the species, I would be named after my paternal godfather, Konstantinos, the hellenised form of the Latin Constantine. Applying Frege’s descriptive theory, Constantine is derived from the word constans, meaning ‘firm and resolute,’ and I have often speculated as to whether a more fitting name could not have been applied to Viagra, had it been invented in ancient Rome. However, when it came time to actually record my name upon my birth certificate, my mother found herself in a Fregian quandary. Konstantinos, while a venerable name shared by among others a number of Byzantine Emperors and kings of Greece, Saints and intellectuals, had no known descriptive counterparts here. Furthermore, the only other known approximation with claims to acclimatization, ‘Con’ bore descriptive connotations that were felt to be negative and besides, verbs cannot be used as proper nouns. What would Shakespeare think?
So I was named Dean, representing the last syllable of my grandfather’s name and variously being an old English word for valley, a Latin derivation of decanus signifying a leader of ten men or a Greek onomatopoeic word signifying the sound a village church bell makes when it tolls. To this was added my father’s name, Alexander, meaning helper of men, and given that after all I was baptized Konstantinos, all together, my parents’ aspirations for their newborn baby seemed to be that living in a valley (which I do, albeit a rather small suburban one), I would make myself the leader of ten men and firmly and resolutely assist mankind, while bells pealed in the background.
Interestingly enough, the only person to have ever called me Konstantinos is my receptionist, and she only does so in an ominous tone whenever I return to the office from lunch late, or otherwise forget an appointment. My parents, having exhausted themselves over Frege’s theories and Bertrand Russell’s rebuttals of them finally gave up and took to calling me Kostas and depending on my level of recalcitrance during my teenage years, a few other names that are sadly not printable here, which is a pity, as they are colourful and demonstrate interesting regional and linguistic permutations. Having rejected Dean as not woggy enough during the era of “Acropolis Now” and introducing myself to all and sundry as ‘Kostas’ during my university years in an attempt to head off lectures by patriotic neo-Greeks as to the effect of the assimilation-crime I was committing by retaining an anglicized name, I was incensed to learn from a sniggering Iranian friend that in Persian, my preferred name signifies a pair of hairless buttocks, something which I am told, is a rarity among men of Iran despite the fact that diverse forms of depilation, mostly using honey and rubber bands were invented and are of widespread use in the Middle East. Thankfully, most Greeks have been inept at oriental languages since Alexander’s epigonoi made the orientals learn Greek and so I can continue to be referred to by that name by my compatriots with relative impunity. However, to guard against evil Iranian incursions into my self-esteem, I retained the name Dean for my dealings with the English-speaking world, given that the Dean is infinitely possessed of greater spelling skills and references than the Kostas is.
My father’s relatives, hailing from Samos, took to calling me by the diminutive Koustak’ which, applying Frege, consigned me to a life of being short in stature and being patted on the head. My grandfather must have been a devotee of Frege’s descriptive theory, as he also tended to call me «κατρούλι» as a child, as well as «ατρούχιστο,» signifying a considerable lack of sharpness. My mother’s relatives on the other hand hailing from Epirus took to calling me Kotcho, which is also the Albanian form of the name and is always preceded by the letter omega as in «Ω Κόchο!». Apparently, a lake Kotcho exists in Canada, which presumably means that I am deep, blue and full of fish and even more fascinating is the revelation that the capital city of the Uighur Turks, being the easternmost Turks who live in China, was entitled Kotcho and it is to this city that Syriac missionaries traveled to in order to preach Christianity. So I am a deep, liquid oriental, with Aramaic tendencies.
Worse was to come. Transliterated from the Greek, my surname is Kalymnios. When my grandfather arrived in this country however, this was automatically recorded as Kalimnios by narrow-minded government officials who had no appreciation for the diversity of vowels. At the time my father arrived here as a baby with my grandmother a year later, he was given her female version of that name: Kalimniou by government officials who had no appreciation for the genitalia of proper nouns. The apogee of this cultural synthesis and syncretic orthography was the day when I found my name recently appearing in a Greek-Australian publication as “Ντιν Καλίμνιου” and I finally conceded that having absolutely no identity, I had absolutely no personality either and feeling sorry for myself for being in what I considered to be a unique predicament, decided to set about obtaining one by renaming myself anew.
In the process of considering names like Murgatroid and Barsanouphrius, and even an NKEE reader’s latest suggestion, Dire Tribe, I was gently reminded by my sister, known in English as Callie and variously called Kalliopi, Kalyupak’ and Kalliopitsa, that owing to my unconscious persistence in pronouncing her name with a Samian accent, there was considerable and learned debate among her friends as to whether her true name was “Galyop,” causing her the inconvenience of having to field etymological questions that she was finding downright tedious. Having followed Frege to his logical conclusion and disappeared up the fundamental orifice of his argument, we concluded that, given that the sins of our fathers will most necessarily be visited upon our children, the only Fregian thing to do from now on when wanting to refer to each other would be to extend our fingers and point. Kindly receive then ← and →, όνομα και πράμα. Just don’t tell our parents.


First published in NKEE on 27 November 2006