As a self-proclaimed solipsist, I have always attached much importance to my name and seen it manifest itself in the least expected of places. But in my pampered youth of Plaza teas surrounded by the redolence of a fine Cavendish tobacco blend among glasses of Scotch filled three-fingers high, I wanted to rebel, mutiny, dissent. “And what better way,” I questioned, “than by changing my name?” I wanted something crude and awfully pedestrian – far from the ambiguously Semitic, definite Russianness of Urken. I wanted “Brad,” or still worse, “Rud.” I wanted something so bourgeois that they’d forbid me to check out Schopenhauer from the library, that 42 states would prohibit from even caressing the dusty jacket of Lacan’s Écrits.
But I smartened up, fair brethren, and began to appreciate my name. I began to notice it in everything and realized that the English language, among others, actually centered around the sexy, well-built root of my first name and as such, revolved around me.
Imagine living up to the fact that your name makes up a plethora of English words, and imagine seeing only yourself in every single work you read.
Let’s take the words and phrases founded in cross. They make everyone in my classes exceedingly jealous, for my peers know that these words were created for me, propelled into being by an “r,” “o,” double “s” combo: across, double-crossed, family grossulariaceae. Crossfire, crosscurrents, cross-linkage, cross stitch, hot-crossed buns, crosshatched, cross examiner, cross-dresser, cross-eyed, crosswalk, cross section, cross examine, cross-bow, crossopterygian, and crisscross among others.
Imagine the cross egomaniacal implications of undoing the cross stitch forming the letter “c” of your high school running uniform so that it read “–ROSS COUNTRY”, almost as if in celebration of conquering all nations and landmasses because of the single gross supra-human feat of running a 5k.
And indeed there’s always the appearance of “Ross” in “gross” (and its many forms) that reminds me of my dominance over the language. Just think of gross national product, gross profit margin, and engrossed among others.
And I needn’t add that I single-handedly constitute the rear end of an albatross!
Let’s not even venture my surreptitious and subtle contribution to the croissant and rotisserie chicken.
And what, you may wonder, is the origin of such a chameleon of a name, a name with such power?
The word “Russia” in the Mother Language can be transliterated as Rossía, and it is this specific root in the country’s name that led to my naming. I was named by a tsiganka named Olga Vladímorich Ivánovna (or simply La Gitane Olga from the Volga). She clearly had glorious etymology in mind when reciting Pushkin during the Cesarean section and anointing my forehead with a salty drop from the Baltic Sea. The root “ros,” needless to say, in Russian forms the root for “growth” and “age” and, as such, my name brings a certain flourishing, development, and maturity to Rossía itself. Not that I’m unduly pleased about it.
But my name has other linguistic associations that can lead to insight and trouble.
Ross (actually Ros in Scottish Gaelic) derives etymologically from the Gaelic for “a headland” or “promontory” – attached to but distinctly separated from the land. Some presume this link to be a reference to the Black Isle. In fact, Ross is a historical comital region of Scotland that is a former mormaerdom, earldom, sheriffdom and county.
The name also has its lineage in the Norse word for the Orkney islands, “Hrossay”, meaning “horse island.”
Some speculate that “Ross” also derives from the Gaelic word for “red,” and whatever passionate vigor such an association may bring, I must confess my shame in the linguistic link between “Ross” and a flower named from the same original color-oriented root.
Let me explain:
While at some ski lodge in the Swiss Alps in my all-too decadent youth – the Cavendish still redolent, the Scotch still stiff – some mushugana kid from the Upper East Side (let’s call him Benjamin Clarence Fishburg) looked at my nametag, required for all involved in the kiddie-kamp. “R-o-se,” he said with glee, pointing at my nametag and mispronouncing. “R-o-se! I never knew a boy (a boy!) could be named after a flower,” he said, at which point I whipped out my vagina (no, I’m just kidding; I don’t have one, I swear). Instead of following this initial but impossible instinct, I spat at him wild and rampant insults, words I considered invectives (“Dilettante, Philistine, Illiterate!”). I ultimately sat in a cool puddle of my own shame.
This boy, who would turn into a Collegiate-educated twat, forever ruined my name, and you can’t undo that. Yes, they can virtually restore virginity these days with a needle point and thread, but not the honor of a first name.
So I began the search for deliciousness in my last name, but it immediately turned sour upon learning of the vast number of foul associations with my surname.
I always thought of “Urken” as the sort of two-syllable last name ending in “n” found so often in Russia (just think of Lenin or Bunin), but a revelation brought into the picture the German sector.
“Gurken” is German for “cucumbers,” I discovered, and this completely leveled my universe. Am I linked to some cucumber farmer who, upon arriving at Ellis Island, had trouble pronouncing a “g”? Unsatisfied with this conjecture, I went down the line and looked for rhymes with “Urken.”
“Merkin” came up in a Google search and brought to my virgin eyes the wide world of pubic wigs – sometimes rather furry and pink. Was I, a man born with a respectable, un-bourgeois name (N.B.: See recently how Firestone allowed me to check out Derrida), meant to believe that I was somehow connected to those muff toupees? No, vehemently, no.
Maybe, I begged, I’m distantly related to Gurkha, a member of a Hindu Rajput group, who achieved dominion over Nepal in the eighteenth century. There is a certain majestic and bellicose charm in this assertion, but I’m not lotusy enough for such ties.
There. Yes, I am related to an esteemed fashion designer who invented the jerkin, a close-fitting, usually sleeveless jacket, made of leather and worn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yes, this linked me to tradition, and Urken became just an orthographical bastardization, stemming from the slip of tongue from a foreign relative to the U.S. immigration authorities.
But, what if – as I feared – my ancestors were actually epic masturbators who were always jerkin’ off during the lunch hour at the tomato factory? Or what if they were pedophilic stalkers who were always lurkin’ in the shadows? What if, alternatively, they were absolutely annoying creeps who took menacing pleasure when they decided to irk people – in the disgusting apotheosis of schadenfreude.
What I’ve found in my investigation of my name is that I can be anything in the limitless combinations of language. Here I am, with a last name linked to the word “querken”: prov.. English for “to stifle or choke.” There, brethren, I have the ability to stupefy, hypnotize, stop you, stifle you, make you choke, just as my ancestors did. No, no, that doesn’t feel right.
Here it is. In my most arboreal incarnation: “Urken” links to “birken,” the Scottish way to describe a birch tree.
All of this identity confusion I have stems from fucking Benjamin Clarence Fishburg, and I’m fed up. I’m going to see my analyst, Dr. Phyllis Stein, for a fifty-minute hour this instant to clear up issues of self-ambiguity and self-hatred. If you want answers about me, brethren, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Go see Rose Gurken; I hear she’s as cool as a cucumber.