Up until now, I must say… I have been sore tested by moderns who only use first names. If you ask them who they were out with last night they answer,”Joe”. To whom were you talking on the phone, “Brittany”. And my favorite,”You got married, who is the lucky man?” Answer: Pete. You might think that the occasion of your nuptials might be an excuse to parade your new last name in front of admirers, but no. Not. You married a guy who goes by a nickname. I can just imagine how perturbed the Internal Revenue Service is to receive a check signed by “Pete”. I suppose they can track him down by his social security number (or the FBI if necessary), but still it would be nice to have a last name to go with that either pretentious or grunt-like first name (like “Burk” or “Bork” or “Bjork-Burk”). Just sayin’
However, after years of the above attitude gnawing away at my moral character, I decided that I was looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was missing the point of the New Social Compact between ourselves and our privacy. We are actually reverting to the ancient and perfectly acceptable practice of imparting as much information as possible in answer to the timeless question of, “What is your name?” Nowadays we are often given either: the place of origin, the profession, or a primary characteristic of the person in question. So, you might know that Jake the Snake was a perfectly detestable aquaintance, but a great asset in a divorce proceeding if he were sitting on the same side of the table as you. John from Parma Heights lets you know that John is indeed from that august suburb of Cleveland, and that he has achieved a certain socio-economic status. Brian the Dentist is sort of a Mack the Knife concept, but you know that he would be a good catch for your daughter. And so on.
Therefore I propose to you that we are attempting to convey the most information as efficiently as possible, as we did back in the good old days when we talked about Charles the Bald and Elinor of Aquitaine. If you listen carefully, you will usually hear that there is more to your answer than a simple name.
“Who were you out with last night? He was a dapper dude,” I said to my exercise trainer.
“Oh, that was Morty. From Paducah,” she answers pertly.
Ah ha! See, it’s the exact same thing as George of Nottingham or Hildepard of Choat.
And then again,”Who was that trainwreck I saw you with last week?” said I with more than usual relish.
“Uggggh, that was Short Eddie, Don the bus driver’s brother.”
Now you have it. A veritable cornucopia of information pouring out at your feet if you would just stop and listen carefully. I submit to you that we have not traveled backward to the indecent realm of surname-free savages, but propelled ourselves ever forward into an Elysian Field of information. It just falls upon you to listen carefully and put the pieces together.
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