~ kusala
[ ku-sa-la: Pali term meaning wholesome, skillful, good, meritorious. ]
[ Action characterized by this quality (kusala-kamma) is bound to result (eventually) in happiness and a favorable outcome. ]


2006-07-24 - 9:02 a.m.

[July 23: it's been incredibly, unbelievably hot here today. Saturday's temperature in Santa Barbara was 92 according to the newspaper, and today it had to be at least that hot. Though I know it's far worse in so many other places around the country, that kind of heat is almost unheard of here, where only offices and shops tend to be air conditioned. I guess there's something nice about the "tropical" flavor of it, but mostly it's just uncomfortable. Luckily, I've been able to just sit shirtless on the screen porch all afternoon.]

By Any Other...

I've just finished reading The Namesake, a novel by Bengali-American Jhumpa Lahiri. It covers a long span of time, but one of the central conceits is how the main character -- one Gogol Ganguli -- comes by his unusual, and decidedly un-Bengali name, and how he attempts at one point to re-invent himself by changing it:

Part of the problem is that people who now know him as Nikhil have no idea that he used to be Gogol. They know him only in the present, not at all in the past. But after eighteen years of Gogol, two months of Nikhil feel scant, inconsequential. At times he feels as if he's cast himself in a play, acting the part of twins, indistinguishable to the naked eye yet fundamentally different. At times he still feels his old name, painfully and without warning, the way his front tooth had unbearably throbbed n recent weeks after a filling...

Reading some of these passages made me think about names and nicknames by which I've been known. And how, through our names and traits, we choose to present ourselves and construct our identities.

To family, during my youngest years, and occasionally even now, I was known as Joey, as I was in school through fourth grade. From second through fourth grades at Immaculate Conception School (closed, sadly, since 2005), I recall being one of about four or five Joeys: Joey Emde, Joey Reynolds, Joey Lupinacci...

I have trouble imagining being an adult Joey, but I was also called that by Ian, who I dated for almost a year in 1996. I don't remember how or when he started calling me Joey, but I think it was pretty early on. I found it sweet and cute, and it went perfectly with the intimacy I felt with him. Even now, when we talk or see each other (which is rare), I identify myself as Joey and he calls me that. Considering the depth to which I was affected by our breakup, my identification as Joey is a bittersweet memory, and a vestige I'm unwilling to give up.

Back to history... In fifth grade, I transferred to Carroll Robbins Elementary, a school that was just across the street from us, but considered inferior if not downright ghastly by my parents. This was by virtue of it being a City of Trenton public school, with a student population that was probably 40% black and 40% Puerto Rican. My attendance there was meant to be temporary, as we were supposed to be moving any month to our house that was under construction out in the "sticks" of Ocean County. I ended up finishing out the entire year there.

I loved my classmates at Carroll Robbins, and I firmly believe now that my year there contributed a lot to my worldview. I probably wanted to be black, in a way, but that's another story. Anyway, for some reason, I chose to have everyone at the new school call me "Joseph" that year, exclusively. That's what's always printed on class rosters and official forms anyway, but for some reason I enforced that name as my new identity.

We finally moved to Jackson in August, 1980, and the next month I started the school year (Carl Goetz Middle School) and somehow became "Joe."

I've pretty much been Joe ever since, except, again, in those moments when people call out my name or phone me based on what they're reading off of an official record. I don't really feel like "Joseph" though, and I don't much identify with that name. I don't know... It seems so old fashioned or formal somehow. I even use Joe when filling out most forms, unless they're legal or governmental.

I've considered using my middle name, Stanley, as a last name pseudonym. The name is after my grandfather, and I feel more affinity for it than for my actual surname, which comes from my (adopted) father. I don't know if I'll ever really have use for a pseudonym (I'm not sure my publishing career is taking off anytime soon... harrumph), but it doesn't hurt if one has a plan, does it?

One more thing about my name: I remember from time to time that I was actually born and named a "Third," as in Joseph III. My last name was different (though still Italian, ending in "i") for the first five years or so of my life. My birth parents separated when I was probably 3 years old, and ultimately divorced. My mom remarried when I was 5, I was legally adopted by my stepfather, and the rest is name history. The only birth certificate I have is a legal certified copy with my new name; I've never seen the original. I think it would be different somehow living life as a "third," always having the identities of Joe (or Giuseppe), Sr., and Joe, Jr., hanging over me. It's funny to think that's how I started out in life: Joe III.

I find it somewhat humorous how some people insist vehemently on being identified as either Bob, or Rob, or Robb, or Robert; or Tom, or Thom, or Thomas (and woe to anyone who spells it 'Tom' instead of 'Thom'). I can't imagine insisting on "Joseph" ever again, especially under the premise that "Joe" isn't professional or serious enough. Still, I guess I understand: it doesn't bother me to be called Joseph, but I definitely prefer Joe. One simple syllable.

Interestingly, since fourth grade, I haven't been in many situations where there are a lot of people named Joe. There were probably a couple in my high school, but now, Joe feels almost as rare as Frank or Al. Common names of a different era of Northeast immigrants and their descendants: Irish, Italian, Polish. I like the fact that it's so ordinary, yet somewhat uncommon. It suits me better than being one of a million Mikes, Daves, Steves, or Johns.

And maybe someday there'll be another Ian who I'll gladly let get away with calling me Joey.

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