So what do you do when you wish that you were not entirely somebody else, but merely a very much better version of yourself? Do you try to persuade yourself that, despite the evidence to the contrary, you are really not too bad as you are, or do you admit that, actually, you almost certainly are, and fret about it for a little while before reconciling yourself to your myriad shortcomings, eating chocolate and unscrewing the lid from a bottle of wine (as the kind of wine you drink is, of course, completely unfamiliar with the whole concept of cork)?
An old school friend of mine (obviously we weren’t old at the time) always wanted to change his name to that of his favourite rock star, but not, you understand, to the rock star’s rock star name, but to the actual name he was given before he adopted the obviously more glamorous alter-ego. The desire to become the person who wasn’t actually good enough for the person you wish to be is a difficult one to reconcile.
Nominative Determination means that I was always going to be a ‘Colin’ by nature and, as disappointing as that might be, I am not sure, particularly at this stage, that changing my name would make me any more of a Brad, a George or an Idris than I am today. Imagine being asked for your name when, for instance, checking into a hotel, only to be met with a bewildered “Are you sure? You don’t look like a Ryan. You have more of the ‘Colin’ about you, if I’m honest.”
In truth, changing your name cannot make you a better version of anything, just the same old dork with a different monogram. My friend’s plan would never have worked: he would, even if he had succeeded in changing his name to Vince Furnier, still have been Paul at heart and nobody who knew him would have viewed him any differently. (Although it might have been a different story if he, too, had changed his name to Alice.)
It really doesn’t take very long at all for a child to become its name. How often do you look at somebody and think “You should have been called something else”? Except in the case of politicians, not often I guess, but “I wish you were more…” or “I wish you were less…” a whole lot more often. I am guessing that – and of course I am once again excluding politicians – most of us feel that we have got things wrong from time to time: that a better person would have done things a whole lot more effectively. And it’s that better man, rather than the other man, that I have always wanted to be. The problem is, there are so many to choose from. If I was looking for a weaker man, a vainer man, a less effective man, the field would be so much smaller. If I was looking for someone who had failed more often than me, I might well have to go inter-species.
Feeling useless – although not entirely worthless – from time to time is a general state of being for most people. Try facing a leaking pipe with no idea where the stop tap is; try sitting in a car with no idea of why it won’t start; try helping a three year old to understand why you don’t drink from the toilet. Most of the human race stands, at least some of the time, Cnut-like on the shore. We are doomed to spend a lifetime attempting to turn back the tide, fighting fires without a bucket, riding the storm without a raincoat and that’s ok, it’s a species-wide experience. Feeling inadequate is a universal sentiment, exacerbated by contact with those precious few who instinctively know exactly the right thing to do, how and when to do it. (Imagine two billion expectant children, one sled, nine clapped-out reindeer, one day to get around the entire globe and yet one man gets the whole job done, year after year.) They are few these people, they are so appreciated when they are needed and they are so annoying when they are not. They are just like us, but better. They are who we would all like to be. They are probably called Dirk or Samantha. They are why nobody should be called Colin…
Song of the day: ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by Johnny Cash, from the wonderful ‘Live at St Quentin’ that was part of my musical education.