Birth names versus ‘self-appointed’ names

Metta World Peace

Metta World Peace, born Ron Artest (pic via Wikipedia)

When basketballer Ron Artest decided to change his name to Metta World Peace – for no discernible reason other than simply because he wanted to – it was met with a collective roll of the Internet’s eyes.

It got me thinking: why do we prescribe such value to birth names, as opposed to people who choose to change their name to something they prefer?

(This is leaving aside, for now, women changing their surnames to reflect their marital status – this is accepted much more as a rite of passage, and less of choice)

Why is this such a problem? Why does the name given to you by someone else mean more than one you choose yourself?

It’s a problem I’ve thought about when curating the names which appear on this site – are birth names somehow more valid, or better, than ‘self-appointed names’? Who am I to judge when a Metta World Peace comes along?

To a large extent I think birth names come with so much pre-loaded baggage: they are the symbols by which we engage with everyone else in our lives. They take everything people know about us, often accumulated over years and years – what we look like and how we act – and reduce it down to a two-word codeword.

To willingly change a name – for no real reason other than simply wanting to – somehow becomes a rejection of your previous name, and thus your previous self.

People can change much about themselves and their appearance: tattoos, clothes, speech, weight; but to change a name, rightly or wrongly, seems the ultimate change.


Q & A with Zebb Prime

Zebb Prime

Zebb Prime

Dr Zebb Prime is a smart man with a smart name. A Research Associate at the University of Adelaide’s School of Mechanical Engineering, his current research centres on Linear Parameter Varying (LPV) control techniques for the robust control of a scramjet powered hypersonic vehicle, while he cites his current research interests as robust LPV control, embedded control, and “the production of nice looking documents”.

He meets my research interest of finding out more about people with great names from the people themselves. Thanks Zebb!

1) Is there a story (that you’ve been told) about where your name comes from?

My parents tell me that they liked the name ‘Zeb’ from an old Western.  I think (but aren’t sure that) it was the character Zeb Macahan in the TV show ‘How the West Was Won’.  I haven’t seen the show myself.

2) What does your name mean to you? Do YOU think you have a great name?

I think I have a good name, and I value it as ‘my name’, but generally I don’t think I attribute any more meaning to it than anyone else does to their name.

3) Is it good or bad – or perhaps a bit of both – to have a distinctive name?

Having a distinctive (and unique) name can be a bit of a double-edged sword.  It obviously makes being remembered easier (for better or worse), and it makes it easier to be found (especially these days on the internet).

4) Do you care what others think of your name? What reactions from others have you encountered over the years?

I generally receive positive reactions to my name, so it doesn’t really bother me what people think of my name, however I could easily imagine how it could bother someone if people were were more negative about their name.

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few funny reactions to my name.  They usually fall into the ‘superhero name’ [Zebb Prime], ‘evil genius name’ [Dr Prime] or ‘transformer’ [Optimus Prime] varieties.

Once in my honours year, we had to submit a conference paper to an internal student conference as part of one of my subjects.  My lecturer later told me that he thought the paper by “Prime and Stabile” was a joke paper, right up until we turned up to give our talk.

More recently, during some lecturing, I had a student tell me I could improve lectures by yelling at the end of each one “Autobots rollout!”

5) Do you have a favourite name you’ve come across over the years?

I’ve got quite a few friends (post-doctoral researchers and post-graduate students) whose names are quite funny with the doctor title, such as Dr Moreau (who has heard no end of island jokes), and the (hopefully) soon to be Dr Jones, who has given us a 1 week grace period of jokes once his PhD gets conferred.

Great name archive, 26 March – 1 April 2012


Tug Coker

Tug Coker

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, journalist and non-voter in up to 4 different countries

Mamie Gummer, actress, daughter of Meryl Streep and gummi bear raider

Jermon Bushrod, American footballer and charity golf tournament hoster

Chuq Von Rospach, community manager and Steve Jobs flamethrower avoider

Norbert Leo Butz, Broadway actor and son of a birth certificate changer

Sen’Derrick Marks, American footballer and mythic basketball dunker

Vivian Vande Velde, children’s author and writing plunger

Varg Vikernes, Norwegian black metal musician and convicted murderer

Vernor Vinge, author, futurist and technological singularity phrase coiner

Chone Figgins, American baseballer and patient tendency haver

Cheetah Chrome, US guitarist and ear pin backer

Gerald Sensabaugh, American footballer and haircut finisher

Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley, mixed media painter and fart joke enjoyer

Tug Coker, actor and Larry Bird portrayer

Jair Jurrjens, Curaçaoan baseball pitcher, Papiamentu speaker and uniform buyer

Great name archive, 19-25 March 2012

Lauren Bush Lauren

Lauren Bush Lauren

Lauren Bush Lauren, designer & 3000 hour hand-sewn wedding dress wearer

Fares Fares, Swedish actor in films such as Bang Bang Orangutang

Stanford Routt, US footballer and $4,000,000 signing bonus recipient

Larry L. Lavender, US auctioneer and former owner of the Troy (OH) Classique Beauty Salon

Gideon Glick, US stage performer and boy scout, karate and soccer quitter

Randy Bumgardner, Blair House manager and beautiful decorator

Captain Munnerlyn, American footballer and base salary escalator hitter

Prune Nourry, French artist and Sperm Bar proprietor

Autumn Fogg, middle distance runner and non-weather system

Four McGlynn, US college basketballer and hardest-working kid

Beau Brug, joint Young Citizen of the Year and Kokoda planner

Deems May, former college footballer and candid commentator

Hans Ohff, former submarine official and vintage car likener

River Clegg, US comedy writer and thing buyer

Nortei Nortey, Chelsea youth footballer, local boy and injury sufferer