• [Cognomen Command]

    “To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary. When we take away the right to an individual name, we symbolically take away the right to be an individual.”

    – Erica Jong from How To Save Your Own Life, epigraph to “My posthumous life …” (1977).

    “Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.”

    – George Santayana (1863–1952), U.S. philosopher, poet. Dominations and Powers, bk. 1, pt. 1, ch. 1 (1951).

    Like most people, I had very little choice about my first name. On the day I made my grand “eingang” into the world, my parents burdened and blessed me with my first identity: Michelle A. Hoyle. Michelle—pronounced by them as mih-shell—Annette Hoyle. That is who I am. That is who I will be. That is who I was. Or is it? In my family, it was not a name that inspired—or I was not a person to inspire—nicknames. The closest thing to a nickname ever used among my relatives for me was Shell and that infrequently. Life continued this way until I was fourteen. Christmas of that year marked a turning point in my life. That is when everything hit the fan. That is when I discovered myself. That is when I became me. All these things hinged upon a single Christmas gift, possibly the best present I ever received from my parents: a 300 baud modem for my computer.

    How did a humble piece of technology, no bigger than a paperback book, come to revolutionize my life so much? Communication equals empowerment. A modem opened the way for me to communicate with people who couldn’t see me, but had to accept me based on what I said and how I said it. It didn’t matter that I was fourteen. It didn’t matter that my parents were trolls from an uranium mine shaft. It didn’t matter that I didn’t fit into my local social milieu in any way, shape or form. Edmonton had a very active discussion-based electronic bulletin board community. Although I didn’t belong to any of the cliques there (of which there were three major ones), I had a passport that enabled me to travel seamlessly between groups. They never directly invited me to events, but I was always welcomed. I had found a much better, more accepting home than my parents had ever provided me with. This was heady stuff. I made friends, close friends, during this time. Most of the closest I’m still in contact with and still doing things with almost twenty years later. Without the affirmation and acceptance I found in this community, I probably would have just given into despair over the course of my life, most of which I felt powerless to control.

    With my communication empowerment and a new electronic world vista came the realization that I needed a way to identify myself. Sure, I could use my original identity. However, in a community where the male to female ratio was 20:1, this was not such a good idea. I wasn’t the only person who didn’t “fit” well into society, and some other people didn’t fit in dangerous ways. It was much safer and funner to take on a pseudonym, which I did for several years, choosing among several, depending on my mood that day and what/who I was trying to portray. Most of these haven’t stuck much with me. As I became more well-known and better able to protect myself, I resorted back to using variants of my own name. Most people, however, are lazy. They don’t want to type “Michelle” if they can type something shorter. I soon found my perfectly beautiful name shortened to “Mickey” or “Mitch.” Yuck! I definitely was not a Mickey or a Mitch type of a person. No way! I needed a shorter, more acceptable name for myself, so I renamed myself Micha, pronounced mee-sha. Micha caught on like wildfire. It caught on so well that there are people I met during that period who still call me Micha, although we’ve been meeting regularly for the last eighteen years. Every once in awhile, I even catch EinSweetie referring to me as Micha to other people.

    Why Micha? I have no idea. I mean, it’s obviously related to my given name, but it’s not a common diminutive form in western Alberta. I came up with the pronunciation on my own, too, and I was quite serious about that. Nothing worse than having your name mispronounced. Not too long after adopting the name, I eventually had to resort to signing my messages “Micha (mee-sha),” because people were calling me ‘mish-ah’ continually, which didn’t have the same feel to it. Micha. I just wanted to be called Micha. No middle name. No last name. Just Micha. This was the first and the longest lasting of my name incarnations.

    This business of just having one name, like Cher or Madonna, has been with me a long time. I’ve never liked having to refer to myself by my full name. I frequently introduce myself to people using just one name and only give them my full name if they insist. I didn’t have any initial choice in my last name. I didn’t pick it myself. It’s hard to change on the spur of the moment, especially if you don’t want one at all. Our modern culture is not set up to handle people who don’t have first and last names. When I was teaching at the University of Alberta, I had a student whose name was Suliman Suliman. It turned out he had only one name, but the registrar’s computers needed a first and a last name, so they just doubled up. Micha Micha sounds strange to my ears, though—vaguely reminiscent of a bad pizza chain advertisement. Later, when I attended university myself, I just introduced myself as Michelle, but the sound of the name had changed from my parents’ original dubbing, taking on a distinctly Micha flavour. I was now Mee-shehl (or Mieschäl).

    Probably my most successful self-invented identity is that of Eingang or Ein. I wrote a story earlier about the origins of Eingang, so I’ll just briefly recap here. After many years of electronic bulletin boarding across North America, I graduated to the Internet and started chatting in real-time with people throughout the world in 1991 or 1992. Again, much like my local bulletin board community, it was wise to choose a name that might help avoid unwanted attentions from the mostly (hormone-laden) geeky world I was inhabiting. So I wanted to choose something vaguely male sounding or non-gender specific. At the time, I was travelling quite often between Canada and German-speaking areas of Switzerland. The word “Eingang” appeared all over the place: on the entrance to the highways, above doors into malls or buildings, everywhere! This word appealed to me a lot, so “Eingang“—entrance—I became. German speakers know Eingang is a masculine word, and English speakers generally don’t know, so I didn’t ever suffer from those unwanted attentions. Later, I decided, in retrospect, that my nickname should really fully be “Eingang des Chaos“—the entrance to Chaos—which, for those of you who know me well, is very appropriate. This is who I am now and, probably, who I will continue to be for a long time.

    This is definitely an Eindentity I have constructed for myself. I am “Eingang” or “Ein” to many people, and I’m very comfortable with all my Ein Things. There are EinColours, EinFoods, and EinWords and EinPeople. It’s a self-made cult. It’s odd that a name I chose based mostly on sound turns out to be so right. “Ein” itself means “one,” which serves to reinforce my notions of being einzigartig (literally, one of a kind) or unique. Mee-sha, Mee-shehl, Ein. I am One. I am Ein. My names, which I have altered to suit my personality, affirm who I am and what I want to be each and every day. That is the power of a name.


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