Every adventurer needs a great name.
I believe that your identity, your persona is largely tied to how you call yourself, and how others call you. Names have power, they say—the power to define. In my country we’re almost universally defined by others, with names assigned at birth. While it’s normal to choose a form of that name that “feels” right (Andrew, Andy, or Drew?), it’s uncommon to use a name of your own choosing.
But there can be great liberation in doing so.
As Lady Gaga famously said, “When I wake up in the morning, I feel like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.’” And I don’t doubt that the people around her react differently to the entity Lady Gaga than they would to Stefani Germanotta—the name she’s carried since birth.
My own identity has changed over the years. I vacillated from “Drew” in college years, to “Andrew” in the hope of sounding more professional, then back to Drew as I sought to make a fresh start, to break free of the work-laden, unhappily married man that Andrew had become.
Since starting to publish my identity morphed again: my friends still call me Drew, but it’s common for them to refer to me personally as Rogue Priest or simply Rogue. “Alright Rogue Priest, what are the plans tonight?”
This delights me, but it’s not the only new direction my name has to take. I’m on assignment in a Spanish-speaking country, and promise to be in a good seven more before this self-created Adventure concludes.
Know any native Spanish speakers? Ask them to say “Drew.” Try “Andrew” too if you want.
I discovered this glitch on my first Mexico trip in 2006, back when I was still rocking Andrew. Nobody understood my name, despite my enthusiastic attempts to learn me llamo. It was like white people trying to pronounce long Indian names.
I would encourage any Indian (or any other minority in the US) to wear their names loud and proud, without any concern how hard it is on whitey. But I also respect how hard it is to fit into a culture with a name no one can pronounce, and as a white American I’m on the other side of the privilege waterfall.
I have a greater duty to adapt to my host cultures because the default circumstance is for them to cater to me—to an unfair degree.
So I’ve long toyed with using an adopted name while abroad, and on this trip I’m testing it out.
The problem is I didn’t know what that adopted name might be. My parents chose a name I happen to adore (after vetting such options as “Chester” and “Wynne”). Andrew comes from the ancient Greek word for “man.” It signifies the virtue of manliness: a quality every man was supposed to strive to possess, comprising bravery, strength, and judicious aggression to one’s enemies.
I’m not a big fan of patriarchy, but in the search for heroism that virtue is one that every woman or man should keep in mind.
The Spanish form of Andrew is Andrés, but for years I thought it was André—and I like that better. André is simple and strong.
Plus, it equips a certain mystique. André is correct in French, but not in Spanish or Portugese. That means that while the name is easy to pronounce for new friends I meet, it will sound unusual, maybe even exotic. If there’s any quality I exemplify it’s unusuality.
From Day One here in the Dominican Republic I’ve introduced myself as André. Occasionally someone will unconsciously add the “-s”, but mostly everyone has understood it and (perhaps because it’s uncommon) remembered it easily.
Like Madonna Or Something
That leaves Jacob, my surname. I have no desire to change my surname, being proud of a lineage of strong, determined and clever Jacobs who stretch back through Pittsburgh to Germany (and my Kings, Forkinses, Hesses too).
But I don’t feel particularly connected to Jacob. And while I have no intention of changing it, I think I’ll stop using it for a bit.
That puts my name as simply André —.
Going by a single name can seem dramatic. Last time I tried it out was with my trusted oracle, Melissa Haney. I could hear her giggling as she tweeted, “The @Rogue_Priest sends me mail from just ‘Drew’ like he’s Madonna or something.”
But, you know, I don’t really mind dramatic. I do things full-way, the way they ought to be done, the way giants would do them, or as near as I can get.
But going André-only has a greater benefit. In real-life interactions, using just one name practically begs people to add another. By going as André I invite others to name me, to narrate exactly who and what André the philosopher-adventurer is.
Where “André Jacob” simply sounds like a multicultural train wreck, “André —” easily becomes “Andre the ___.”
This puts us back where we started, with other people defining who I am—but this time on my own terms. By choosing André I set the stage for who and what I intend to be: a traveler from faraway, and one who stands for something. How people fill in the blank will reflect their culture (which I’m visiting) as well as my actual deeds and how well I live up to my search for heroism.
Of course, I don’t expect grand monikers. How people complete my name will be partly under my control, as I choose to use the versions that make me smile and not the ones that seem mean-spirited. But it’s also beyond my control, and I expect the blank in “André the ___” will change many times depending on who I’m with and what I do.
Ultimately, my sobriquet might come more from practical necessity than anything else:
“What’s your name?”
But then, André Sólo doesn’t have a bad ring to it.
Think this name will evolve the way I hope? Please leave me a comment below and tell me: how would you fill in “André the ___”?