Defining a Name

I was born with a name that lacks meaning.

Not absolute meaning, of course. The name ‘Wright’ means ‘builder,’ and the name ‘Colin,’ depending on whether you’re talking to a Celt or a Norseman, means ‘cub’ or ‘a person living on property with disputable ownership.’

But I wasn’t born in a country where an urgency is placed on names, like it is in some cultures. I didn’t grow up feeling like I had to carry a burden handed down from my father’s father’s father, or risk tarnishing something meaningful. For a person in a country where aristocracy isn’t really a thing (unless you’re a Bush or a Kennedy), my name lacks responsibility. I like that.

It means I have the ability to imbue my name with any meaning I want. It could become a name aligned with infamy, or a name remembered for great contribution. It could be a standard that I proudly fly, or a mask I hide behind. A name is a title without definition, and I have the opportunity to choose what mine will say.

To do so, of course, I’ll need to live. I’ll need to get out into the world and do things, lest some other Colin Wright should get there before me. Set a definition in stone that cannot be altered.

That’s not to say it’s a competition with others who share your namesake; you and your name-sharing brothers or sisters from around the world can add attributes to a collective definition, allowing your good name to become even better for each of your contributions.

But it isn’t something you can wait for someone else to do for you. I can’t rest on my laurels and hope some other Colin Wright grants the name meaning worth having, because even bearing that name, the significance of the words would fall flat on me, not having earned them myself. There would be no substance behind the words, should I wear them without having contributed to their construction.

A name can be a valuable thing, but for most of us, it starts as an empty piggy bank. The payoff can only come if we invest the time and energy required to fill it.

Update: April 13, 2017

I was thinking, for a time, of writing a book called something like Stalking Colin Wright, for which I’d go out and find as many other Colin Wrights as possible and see what they’re all about.

The idea stemmed from an increasing awareness of other people who share my name, due to the age of the internet in which we live, but also because of a clash or notoriety that can’t help but emerge when your key identifying factor is shared by other people who also wish to be known for things.

Which is to say: there’s an MMA fighter, a juggling mathematician, a photographer, and another author, all of whom share my name, and those are just the ones that show up most frequently in the search results alongside my work, photos, and videos. For most of us, there are hundreds or thousands (at least) of other people out there who share our name, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as the population increases further, and we become even more interconnected, and the things we stick to names, like reputation and even economic burdens, become increasingly misplaced.

For what it’s worth, those other Colin Wrights seem pretty rad, and it would be nice to meet them, even without the book as an excuse. If you’re one of them, feel free to reach out and say howdy.