What's In A Name? A Question of Who We Are.
The Inability To Unify Over Any Issue Is Not New
Put succinctly, we as citizens of the United States of America are suffering from an identity crisis, leading to a lack of unified thought, action, and belief. It is a frequent occurrence to turn on the news or view a political debate and find someone whose beliefs and mindset mirror your own. This lends credence to the general belief that you exemplify the typical American, which only adds to your sense of surprise when you learn just how many people are opposed to what you are in favor of. Rest assured that those members of whatever opposition you can care to name feel that they exemplify the typical American as well.
Wherefrom stems this clash? Why do we so often war with one another over what it means to be American?
Language Evolves To Deal With New Concepts. Or Else.
Language Is A Culprit If Not THE Culprit
The very term “American” is a misnomer, a place name which we have habitually employed for so long for lack of something better that we no longer recognize its original meaning. Speak to anyone whose native language is not English. More often than not, you will find that identifying yourself as American simply implies that you were born somewhere in North, South, Central America, or hail from one of its many surrounding islands. Should you wish to identify yourself as a United States citizen, there is another word for that, but not in English.
So why is our own lexicon so ill-equipped to define us as a people? Personally, I believe that we have not taken the time to assess what it is to be a United States citizen. Heartwarming rhetoric, tales of sacrifice in one horrific yet oh-so-necessary war after another (because Americans are always right and now police the world), and the need to denounce others for being less “American” than you abound left and right. We are proud. We have fought and undergone much struggle. But no one has clearly stated what it is we are proud of. No one has stated what was won at the end of the day. All we know about what it means to be American is to fight. No one ever considered what happened when the gunfire stopped, it seems.
A New World Needs New Patriots
We are a warlike people. Many of us claim we would die for our country. But now we fight wars in a new theater, and the enemy is winning because we don’t understand that not all wars are conducted in the open. The enemy has no uniform. In only very few cases can a firearm and a will overcome him. Terrorism, social unrest, disease, poverty. These are the enemy, but we are still dwelling in the past. For those proud of the term, American means to be a soldier almost 200 years ago. And a 200 year old person is ill equipped for today’s world.
If we want to overcome terrorists, we need to employ intelligence channels which track the funding that supplies terrorist groups. If terrorism is no longer profitable, the foot soldiers won’t be able to fight and the leaders will have no incentive to brainwash said foot soldiers.
If we want to prevent people from going berserk, walking into a McDonald’s with a shotgun, and spoiling everyone’s egg McMuffin, then rather than crack down on gun laws, we need to figure out the shortcomings in our social structure which drives people to act out so terribly. It’s the difference between forbidding someone from committing an act and creating an environment in which they wouldn’t want to commit that act. In the right circumstances, people can police themselves.
If we want to cure cancer, we need to make finding a cure more profitable for research groups than the actual act of research itself. Think about it. If you make $100,000 dollars a year researching cancer cells, you won’t willingly find a cure for cancer because it will put you out of a job.
As for poverty, it requires a drastic overhaul of our economy, welfare, and healthcare system. Even so, greed means that those in a position to affect change are disinclined to do so. Wouldn’t it be nice if being American meant selflessness, providence, and service to fellow man?
By now, you’re probably thinking this simple linguistic oversight is being blown out of proportion. Possibly, but I will invite you to look back upon your own experiences whilst I give a few examples of the twofold nature of a name and what happens when you don’t have one.
A Rose By Any Other Name
Names Define Function
Regardless of what the Bard says, a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet, particularly if called ofalweed or devilscrotum.
If that seems a little too off-the-wall for you, consider the following: If you were caught in the middle of a bar fight, who would you rather have watching your back? Percy, Vincent, and Blake? Or Billy Bob, Duke, and Rocky? Personally, I’d prefer Nitro, Hacksaw, and Skull, but we’re trying to be realistic here.
The same goes for a night out. If you were invited out for some fun on the town, would you rather go with Ethel, Blanch, and Pearl, or Bubbles, Trixie, and Candy?
The Curious Case of Mr. MacLopez
In an extreme and genuine example of just how thoroughly a name can influence, I cite the case of one Mr. Jesus MacLopez. Mr. MacLopez is an amalgamation of individuals as opposed to a singular person for the sake of maintaining anonymity.
Mr. MacLopez is a Scottish national, residing on the western cliffs of the Highlands. His family name dates back to the mid 1600s, when the Spanish Armada sailed for England with the intent to make war upon Queen Elizabeth I as punishment for her rewarding the English privateers who harried Spanish merchant vessels ceaselessly. The size of the Armada was prodigious, and compared to what few ships of the line England had at her beck and call, the Spanish victory was seemingly assured before the outset of the first engagement.
However, the Spanish ships were cumbersome and antiquated in design, ill-equipped for weathering the merciless storms that howled through the English Channel on occasion. The storm that blew up and scattered the Armada, dashing many to pieces against English rocks and sending yet others hopelessly off course, was forever afterward known as the Protestant Wind for its apparent aid in granting England victory.
A number of Spanish ships were blown north, their rigging too damaged to navigate, until they ran aground against the shores of Scotland. With no hope of sailing to Spain, and knowing that to attempt a land journey home would require they brave England, where they would likely be captured, tortured, and hung, the Spanish sailors settled where they were. There was never any love lost between England and Scotland, and as such the local Scottish were not inclined to inform any authority figures of the whereabouts of their Spanish visitors.
When the Spanish sailors chose to share their expertise in the production of sherry, their welcome became infinitely warmer. To understand how this affects Scotland as a whole, a little history lesson is required. You see, chief exports of Scotland have included whisky for a very long time, with record of the production of whisky going back as far as the Celts. It was probably inherited from the Irish, though that allegation is subject to debate and is a point of national pride for both parties. It’s said only half jokingly the Scottish are descended from a mentally ill Irish clan, in which the chieftain said, “Come on, lads. I know an even rainier place!” and led them all to the Highlands, but that’s neither here nor there.
The process of whisky distillation varies from nation-to-nation, region-to-region, and family-to-family. And while there are too many individual factors to number in anything less than a full-sized book, one of the largest concerns is the distillery’s location. A clean flowing stream nearby is paramount, and eventually it was learned that a richer flavor of whisky could be produced from waters that had little temperature variance year round. Since Scotland’s latitude makes finding such a place difficult, a popular alternative was to age the whisky in casks which had previously held sherry. The sherry casks infused the whisky with a perfume scent and fruity flavor. But to obtain sherry casks required the Scottish use English intermediaries, who frequently gouged them on the costs. Establishing local sherry vineyards allowed Scottish distillers a greater degree of economic independence, notwithstanding something more to drink, given the famed medicinal qualities of sherry at the time.
Today, Jesus MacLopez still runs his family’s sherry vineyard. He has the standard features of an Alpine Caucasoid, speaks English with a Glaswegian accent and employs bits and pieces of Gaelic when he’s too angry to find English sufficient. His diet and lifestyle are identical to that of any other Scottish person, but his name has affected him. He is interested in Spanish politics, attempts to learn the language, learns the music and dance, and touts the heritage of a nation to which he’s never been at every possible juncture, sometimes to the degree that he believes other Scottish nationals act in a prejudiced manner toward him. That name has driven him to identify with the one Spanish ancestor he possessed almost 400 years ago, in the process ignoring the 400 years worth of Scottish ancestors that came after.
We as residents of this country (disregarding Native Americans, for the moment) have names stemming from other cultures markedly different from what we live in today. We have brought the memory and history of our mutual pasts to this country, and in the process have ignored what’s come since or what we might create in the future. Our own names tie us to a heritage we can only know intellectually, and at the same time they may inhibit us from recognizing our heritage as “United Statesians,” if you will.
Only In America.
The Fallout of No Name
When lacking a name, a fallback will be relied upon. If you’re not United Statesian, then you’re a rebel or a Yankee, a New Englander or a northwesterner. If given the opportunity, it is in man’s nature to divide up into groups based on bloodline, mutual beliefs, location, or similar ways of life. The term “American” and what it means is so nebulous and vague that it might as well not exist. And indeed, we act as if it doesn’t.
It’s quite likely that, if you’re at a social event or chatting with newfound friends, someone will mention their heritage. Immediately, you and all the others involved will start rattling off your own background as well. I’ve known people who identify (at least in part) as rednecks, hillbillies, Massholes, Texans, Bostonians, all sorts of ethnicities and religions, even a few Floridians (though those were probably on dares seeing as how difficult it is to imagine someone admitting that freely), and I’ve yet to meet a single person who introduces himself as an American.
There is no such thing. No one can agree on it, save when they slap a bumper sticker on their trucks saying they’re proud to be one, which only begs the further question of what it means to be American.
At this point, we begin to wonder if the lack of a national identity is caused by the lack of a singular name, or a result of no singular name. Most of our families have been living in this country for centuries, but when asked about your heritage, you will immediately think of those who hailed from other countries. It’s as if all the time spent here has been in waiting for us to develop a culture or history. American Wasteland indeed.
I, for example, can trace my lineage back to:
- An early British colonist family in Salem, Massachusetts (accused of witchcraft but never proven)
- A Scottish clan whose menfolk were entirely exterminated by William Wallace and Robert the Bruce so Robert would have the strongest claim to the Scottish throne (a subplot which was conspicuously absent from the film Braveheart)
- A family of Irish giants with claim to Dunsoghly Castle who moved to St. Louis, Missouri during the Prohibition and promptly established a speakeasy (It was said Capone never bothered trying to take them over because it would’ve cost him too many men)
- Bavarian nobility and German peasantry both escaping the Kaiser.
- And several occupants of the English Jewry during the late Medieval period.
It may just be a joke among my elders, but it’s possible I’m also descended from a bastard son of William the Conqueror. Then again, most people probably are, and everyone has their own family stories. Each is a source of pride, but notice how none mentioned are American, even though the latest arrival to the United States was more than 80 years ago.
Likewise, it doesn’t mean anything. If I went to Dunsoghly Castle and said I have a claim to its lordship, I’d be laughed off the grounds. If I go to Glasgow and say I’m Scottish, you can be sure a lot of people are going to tell me that no, I’m not.
I, like many other occupants of this country, feel caught between two worlds, and seem welcome in neither. I am told by the bumper-stickered crowd that if I don’t like this country, I’m welcome to get out, as if abandoning one locale for another would solve anything. Yet those peoples from which we are descended see us as another group and nation entirely, regardless of family names and stories meant to stir the heartstrings.
So, I leave you with two things to keep in mind. First, consider referring to yourself as a United Statesian. Second, give serious thought to why you should refer to yourself as a United Statesian.
I could wax grandiloquent on the pie-eyed dreams and hypocrisy of a nation formed by slave-owners who wanted to be free. I could go on without end about how we don’t wish to acknowledge our current nationality because it has been rife with warfare, deceit, and corruption since day one. I could say that looking back before our ancestors came to the United States is a pleasant way of denying that we are now locked into a system in which the vast majority of us have no control over our nation, are helpless in regards to our own welfare and that of our loved ones, and are rocketing toward plague, famine, and rampant poverty on a scale only previously described in the Book of Revelation, but I’m sure you’ve got your own opinions (what with that being part of our identity crisis) and I would love to hear them.
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