On My Several Names

I’ve always had more than one name. My parents made sure of that when they named my Jeremy Luke but always called me Luke. From the moment they made that choice I was always doomed to be Jeremy on first days of school and at border crossings and to telemarketers, while also being Luke to everyone who actually knew me.

As a child, I felt this situation as one of life’s minor but unavoidable annoyances, like too-bushy eyebrows or a bad sense of fashion, something that might cause some embarrassment with strangers but was easily forgiven among friends and family. As I grew older, however, I started to see some advantages in having two separate personas, where Jeremy was a kind of official persona who applied for jobs and registered for bank accounts and wrote poems, and Luke was a more relational persona who went to school and played rugby and spent summers on Manitoulin Island and attended youth group and asked girls on dates and all the other things that went with family, friendship, and community.

This distinction was never really very rigorous, of course, and couldn’t be. There was only ever one person behind the personae, and the things I did, the people I knew, the places I went couldn’t help but blend into each other. Even so, I began to find the two names and their implied roles more and more helpful. Even if Jeremy and Luke were never entirely distinct, they each named a different part of me in a way that helped me understand myself and relate to others better, particularly as my official persona became increasingly tied to academic and literary pursuits. The two names became roles I could take on in different situations: Jeremy, a mostly extroverted teacher and writer, at least partially distinct from Luke, a mostly introverted husband, father, and friend.

As I said, those two names have been with me from birth, but what spurred me to think about them again recently is that I’ve acquired a third name. I’ve been working a couple days a week for a contractor friend over the past few months, and he calls me Lucas. I’m not sure why, but he does. This means that his new co-op student calls me Lucas, that the other contractors, clients, hardware store employees and everyone else I meet in that capacity, all call me Lucas also. Most interestingly, at least to me, Lucas is also starting to name a persona that serves me, much as Jeremy and Luke serve me, to identify a role that I play in the world.

Whereas Jeremy tends to be very independent, self-motivated, and even self-employed (if you can use that word for an enterprise that barely breaks even), Lucas is content just to swing a hammer and let someone else be the boss. Whereas Luke’s roles of husband and father and friend are mostly defined by nurturing and supporting others, Lucas’ roles of employee and co-worker are mostly defined by playfulness and humour and comradery. Whereas Jeremy’s work is primarily intellectual, Lucas’ work is primarily physical. While Luke’s labour is about building family and home and community, Lucas’ labour is purely transactional.

Now, let’s be clear. Lucas’ role has always been one I’ve played throughout my life, far before that name became attached to it. I was Lucas when I was drywalling in the Alberta oil patch for a summer, when I was playing highschool and university rugby, when I was making fiberglass at Owens-Corning, and when I was working occasionally for my brother. To be honest, there’s a part of Lucas who shows up every time I hang out with my brothers, every time I go to the movies with some guy friends, every Thursday night when a few of my friends meet for drinks and video games and other such unproductivity, every time I go play with my old man basketball team. That physical, brotherly, wise-ass part of me has always been there, if perhaps less developed than some of my other bits.

The difference is that now this part of me has a name, a persona, a distinct role. I didn’t ask for it, but it was given to me, and I’m starting to enjoy it. Just as with Jeremy and Luke, the role of Lucas isn’t entirely distinct, but it allows me to inhabit a part of me more fully, to take on that role of co-worker, teammate, and brother with greater intention. I’m curious to see who this Lucas will become.

 

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