Have I been living a lie all this time?Published 12:02am Friday, February 8, 2013
Do you think your name somehow influences who you are, what you do and how you act?
Think about it. Would the Jamaican world-record sprinter Usain Bolt be any less fast if he ran under the name Thomas Smelter? Would Stevie Wonder sing less wonderfully if he used the name his mother and dad give him, Stevland Judkins?
If you suddenly found out that the United States government identifies you with a different name than the one you had been using your entire life, would you think that you had been living a lie? Would you wonder what your life would have been otherwise?
My trip to the Natchez Social Security office began innocently last week. I have known that I needed a replacement card for a couple years. Somewhere between moves to Jackson or Natchez, the small card came up missing.
To be honest, I vaguely remembering seeing the card the day my mother handed over it, my birth certificate and other important documents. I think I remember having to show it the day I got my driver’s license. If I have used it since then, I can’t recall.
What I thought would be a relatively boring trip, quickly changed when the deputy clerk behind the desk said, “I see you want to change your name.”
The name I put on the form was the same one I have used since I learned it when I was 3- or 4-years old — William Benjamin Hillyer. It is the same name of my great-great grandfather.
“That is not the name we have on record,” the clerk said when they looked up my Social Security number.
“According to our records, your name is William Banjamin Hillyer, with an ‘A’ not an ‘E.’”
When I looked at her blankly and perplexed, she added, “It’s the name that is printed on your original Social Security card.”
If it was I didn’t know it.
I replied, “I am pretty sure I am a Benjamin not a Banjamin. At least that is what my parents told me.”
With the paperwork complete and my birthright restored, I left the Social Security office and reached for my cellphone.
“Hmmm,” my mother said on the other end. “Have you checked your birth certificate?”
Have I checked my birth certificate? After almost 45 years, was my mother trying to tell me some deep family secret? Is my real name Ban and not Ben?
“Well you know Benji the dog was big back then. Maybe you were meant to be a Banji instead,” my mother said.
For a few seconds, I thought she was serious until she let out a series of laughs.
“Think about it. You could have lived a completely different life as a Banjamin,” she joked. “You could have been a famous jazz musician or banjo player.”
Even though my childhood orthodontist’s name was Dr. Tungstall and his partner, an oral surgeon, was Dr. Hand, I don’t believe certain names guarantee success or somehow predict careers and futures.
Psychologists have done studies of names and how they correlate with job occupations. Authors, it turns out, are attracted to research subjects that fit their surnames, according to a 1994 article in professional journal, “The Psychologist.” The magazine suggests that surnames plant some sort of subconscious idea in the heads of some researchers.
But I have found no study suggesting there is the same correlation with first names or middle names.
After a few minutes of living as a Banjamin, I am now happy living as a boring, bland William Benjamin.
It’s like a pair of comfortable shoes that has been broken into over time. It fits.
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.