Sunday, July 24, 2011

What's in a Name?

But that's not what most of us do. Someone, let's say, a baby, is born; his parents call him by a certain name. They talk about him to their friends. Other people meet him. Through various sorts of talk the name is spread from link to link as if by a chain. A speaker who is on the far end of this chain, who has heard about, say Richard Feynman, in the market place or elsewhere, may be referring to Richard Feynman even though he can't remember from whom he first heard of Feynman or from whom he ever heard of Feynman. He knows that Feynman is a famous physicist. A certain passage of communication reaching ultimately to the man himself does reach the speaker. He is then referring to Feynman even though he can't identify him uniquely. He doesn't know what a Feynman diagram is, he doesn't know what the Feynman theory of pair production and annihilation is. Not only that: he'd have trouble distinguishing between Gell-Mann and Feynman. So he doesn't have to know these things, but, instead, a chain of communication going back to Feynman himself has been established, by virtue of his membership in a community which passed the name on from link to link, not by a ceremony that he makes in private in his study: 'By "Feynman" I shall mean the man who did such and such and such and such'.

— Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity 1

* * *

My name is not TED.

I venture to offer this little corrective, Long-suffering Readers, in order to clear up some misunderstandings which seem to have crept into the minds of a few of you. Notwithstanding my belief that the vast majority of you understand what a pseudonym is and why I purpose one here, I detect hints that some of you may have lost your bearings on occasion and begun to identify the author of these pages—me—with the persona I adopt here. This, you may well imagine, is a mistake.

"TED," of course, is simply an acronym of my true moniker, a convenient shorthand for the full pseudonym I use to conceal my true identity. But I do not pretend it does not carry connotations and referents, both public and private, which may excite a stronger identification of me with the constructed personality I present in these pages. I confess this is not entirely accidental.

Ted is common shorthand for the name Theodore, from the Greek Θεόδωρος (Theodōros), which means "God's gift." I leave it as an exercise for my readers to discover how this may be relevant to an arrogant, supercilious, opinionated investment banker living and writing on the island of Manhattan in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eleven. No peeking.

My true name, however, is not Ted. Assuming for the moment one subscribes to the notion that given names influence destiny or convey meaning beyond acting as mere referents—which I do not—this makes sense, for if I were truly God's gift to investment banking, society, and/or women, as I often trumpet in these pages, you may rest assured most everybody would feel that God is handing out some pretty chintzy gifts.

My given names were granted me in honor of an unfortunate relation who reportedly flew his plane into the side of a mountain in some long-forgotten war. I say "reportedly" because the fog of war, distance of time, and the natural proclivity of my family to dramatize quotidian events with the Sturm und Drang of Götterdämmerung may have put a slightly higher polish on the event than facts warranted. Sound familiar? In any event, you may now see why I prefer to think that names are not destiny.

* * *

Neither, on the other hand, are literary personae real individuals. I promulgate an arrogant, bombastic, naughty, slightly larger than life personality in these pages for comic effect, emphasis, and fun, not because that is who I truly am. It's fun to pretend to be a Big Swinging Dick. It's more entertaining for you, too, and it attracts more pageviews. This last, frankly, is the primary reason this onanistic opinion-fest exists in the first place. Finally, it draws chicks like moths to a flame. (See what I mean?) But the persona is not me.

Now don't fret that I plan to drop the disguise in favor of some misguided attempt at transparency or—God forbid—sharing. All the reasons I hide behind my pseudonym remain in full force and effect; I will only forgo the pretense once Steve Schwarzman and Henry Kravis drop theirs and marry in public on the steps of City Hall. In the meantime, just don't confuse the man behind the curtain with the Wizard of Oz. I have many valuable things in my gift, but yacht rides on the Mediterranean are not one of them.

But feel free, Dear Friends, to continue to call me TED. I will know to whom you are referring. It just isn't me.

* * *

Now, about that champagne, Natasha...

1 Saul A. Kripke, Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1980, pp. 91–92.

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