[Author’s Note: A couple of decades ago, I wrote the following essay after I was called, yet again, “David” instead of “Michael” during a meeting. It lived on a site of mine for a while until the site, and the service that hosted it, went where all evanescent internet sites go. However, today I saw a cartoon by Chris Hallbeck that made me realize that Michael-David-derangement-syndrome was a real thing. So here’s the essay, brought back from the misty archives.]
I Am Not David
It doesn’t happen every day, but 2 or 3 times a year someone will call me “David.” It might be in a business meeting, it might be at a party. Almost always it is someone who has been introduced to me within the last 10 or 20 minutes.
Perhaps it is a failure of short term memory. I’m sure that’s part of it, and, as far as it goes, it is a failure with which I can completely sympathize. Lord knows, I’m terrible with names myself, and always have to take great pains whenever I’m introduced to anyone new to remember the names I hear so I won’t make a complete fool of myself. But it’s not the inability of other people to recall my name that bothers me. No, it’s that they almost invariably think that they know what my name is – and somehow, they always think that it’s David.
I have nothing against the name as such. It’s a good, traditional, easy-to-spell, eminently pronounceable, honest, work-a-day, dependable name. It’s just that a) it isn’t my name, and b) there’s no reason I can see that would make people think that it is. Some names, when you hear them, tend to conjure up a stereotypical image or two: Mortimer. Quincy. Bubba. But what quality is it that inheres in “Davidity”? I just don’t see it.
I know several genuine Davids. One of my best friends is David the neurologist. Another is my cousin David, the lawyer-turned-restauranteur. There’s also David the musician, David the Shakespearian scholar, and David the multimedia producer. No one could mistake any one of them for any of the others. Other than the fact that they are all adult males, there isn’t much that links them together other than the fact that they are named David and that I know them. They are not each other, I am not they, they are not I.
A friend of mine once suggested that calling me David was a form of crypto-anti-semitism: after all, David is a Jewish name, and I am Jewish. Calling me David is, according to this theory, an attempt to deny my individuality and pigeon-hole me in an ethnic category. Although I do love conspiracy theories, this one doesn’t work for me. I know of a lot of non-Jewish Davids: David Copperfield, David Letterman, David Rockefeller, David Nelson (son of Ozzie and Harriet), Dafyyd Ap Gwilym. Not only am I Jewish and they are not, I don’t know Micawber, have never been to Indianapolis, haven’t entered politics, don’t have show-biz parents, and don’t write Welsh poetry.
So why do people consistently call me David? My theory is that everyone has a Platonic name, a name that is really theirs despite what birth certificates, driver’s licenses, social security cards, dossiers, permanent records, wills, stock certificates, and mailings from Publisher’s Clearinghouse may say. This is the True Name, the name by which the universe is uniquely configured to identify you. It has nothing to do with what the name represents, where it comes from, what qualities it evokes, or who else has it. It is simply the True Name, the Platonic Ideal of your name. Mine is, apparently, David.
But don’t call me David. I probably won’t answer.