What is in a Name?
Yang asked San, ’What is your name?’
San said, ‘Bob.’
Yang said, ‘Bob? That’s me.’
San said, ’My name is Mary.’
Yang laughed aloud.
~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 68
What is in a name? What is my name? ‘That which we call a rose,’ said Juliet, ‘by any other name would smell as sweet’. In Zen, our name is attached to everything: our friends and lovers, dogs and cats, trees and rocks. They all have our name. They have our name because they fundamentally have no name whatsoever. And there-in lies the freedom and the joy in being called a rose, Mary, Buddha. They all smell just as sweet.
I come from peasant stock on my Portuguese father’s side (my Irish mother, like all Irish, are descended from kings and queens, we were told), and my great-grandfather Manuel changed his name from something in his native tongue to ‘Joseph’, perhaps to better blend into his new home
in California. My whole life I have looked upon ‘Joseph’ as a kind of fake name, a made-up name. In recent years I joined various ancestry-hunting websites in hopes of finding my original name. The paper trail ended last month when I was able to find Manuel’s death certificate from 1897. Unfortunately, it held no material information on his birth name.
Sitting on the train this morning, I asked myself, ‘What if Joseph is my real name?’ So what if it was created by some whaler/dishwasher/farmer 150 years ago? I googled the name ‘Joseph’ and found a fake coat of arms. I am proudly adopting that coat of arms as my family’s own.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Go ahead, dear, become a Montague.