02 March 2009

By another name

Fair warning: this post is a massive amount of me geeking out over Lord of the Rings.  If you've never read the books or seen the movies, move along.  You'll be bored to tears by the end of the second sentence.

Lord of the Rings was on TNT over the weekend.  Not the extended versions, which any real geek knows are the TRUE versions...but at least they played the entire trilogy.

I've read all three books more than once, and seen each of the movies many times.  I have both the theatrical versions and the extended collector's edition box set DVDs.  I can do lines from almost everything Tolkien ever wrote, starting with The Hobbit.  So I'm a fan.  You could say.

When I saw the first movie, "The Fellowship of the Ring," I was heartbrokenly disappointed that director Peter Jackson left out Tom Bombadil and Galadriel's gifts.  The extended version corrects the omission of the gifts, but not the Old Master.  Isn't it sad that I'm able to pick apart such detail?

As usual, I digress.

Something new sticks out to me each time I watch the movies or read the books.  This time around, what I noticed was the many names for the character Gandalf.

  • Olórin
  • Mithrandir
  • Grey Pilgrim.
  • Gandalf Greyham
  • Greycloak
  • Gandalf the Grey
  • Gandalf the White 
  • The White Rider 
  • Stormcrow 
  • Incánus 
  • Tharkûn 
  • Greybeard 
  • Lathspell
(List partially acquired with the assistance of Wikipedia)

Although Gandalf is hardly unique among the Tolkien characters; Aragorn and Frodo also have multiple names.

What this made me think of was completely off-topic from the movies and the books; sure, there are multiple names for the characters, but we too, ordinary people, also have multiple names, related to the roles we play in various people's lives.  Nicknames a-plenty have we all, from grade school and college, from adventures and day-to-day life.

I'm not going to list the myriad nicknames I've acquired over the years.  (Sorry.)  Some of them I treasure, and more than a few I despise.

When I was growing up, my friends and family called me a shortened version of my legal name. I used to introduce myself to people by saying, "My name is X, but my friends call me Y."  Implying, of course, that even those whom I'd only recently met were friends.

Around about 16, I decided that the short version of the name reflected a child, a kid with bad teeth and messy hair, not the sophisticate I imagined myself to be, and I started insisting that everyone call me by my legal full name (i.e. the name on my birth certificate).

It took a few years, but eventually, even childhood friends had mostly adapted to it.  I hated when I ran into cousins or other extended kin who would still call me the nickname; I bitched about it, and frequently got angry at those who refused to conform to calling me the "right" name.

I remember complaining about a particular cousin to my dad; with 19 first cousins, there were still a few holdouts well into my 20s who I had (I felt) to correct at every opportunity for using the wrong name.  My father told me that a time would come when I wouldn't care which name people used for me, that there would be a point in the future where I would shrug and go along with whatever, it would just not be as important to me as it had been.   

That day hasn't come yet.  I don't know that it ever will; I still really hate being called my childhood nickname.  These days, though, I don't get angry about it.  I just say something polite along the lines of oh, you know, my real name is _____, and I prefer that now.  I don't get into arguments anymore over it.  (I will still kvetch privately, long and loud, about it though.)

I wrote a week or so ago about old school-mates "finding" me on Facebook; most of these are people who I have not seen since 1991-ish.  That is, of coure, pre-name-change days.  Many of these people I'm happy to reconnect with, it is nice to know where they are, what they're doing, but there are a handful that I'd rather they'd left well enough alone.  Playing the "what-have-you-done-since-I-saw-you-last" game is only fun once or twice.

There was a cop movie in the early 90s that starred Michael J. Fox, about a child actor who wants to be taken seriously, who wants grown up roles, called The Hard Way.  I remember a portion of it where he's complaining about not being offered the 'important' roles, where he throws a temper tantrum to his manager/assistant/publicist saying, "I'm the only one who wants me to grow up!"  And that's how I feel about people calling me The Nickname.  That they're not taking me seriously, that they still view me as that wallflower with the secondhand clothes and poor social skills.  At the same time, though, I recognize how immature and ridiculous it makes me seem to insist on being called my real name.  It is a no-win proposition.

(Watch at about 5-15 seconds into the trailer to see just what I mean.)

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