Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Name is Barak.

My name is Barak. Not Barack, as so many helpful people suggest these days, but Barak. That’s been my name since long before Barack Obama became a household word. And over the past four years, my name has slowly emerged from a deeply exotic obscurity to become one of the most recognized names in the U.S., if not the world. Later this year, it will probably become the most recognized unusual name ever. More than Gwyneth. Or Haruki.

I grew up correcting mispronunciations, ignoring other mispronunciations, explaining my name’s origins, and enduring a lot of teasing about it. I imagine Barack Obama did as well. Whether the name is Barak or Barack, it’s not John or George.

And so, in a shameless attempt to capitalize on the fluke that has turned my formerly eccentric name into a commonplace, I present a perspective on what it’s like to be named Barak. Or Barack. I have a few things in common with Barack Obama (more on that later), but the one thing I know better than 99.999% of the world is what it’s like to have his name. Because it was and still is my name, even if that sense of unique ownership is a little shaky these days.

I’ll tell you what my name means, what his name means, and if they’re related. And I’ll list all the things kids used to say to tease me about this name, from obvious to historical to pop culture references. Consider this an extremely trivial window on Barack Obama’s life.

We’re All Barack Now

But my own story only goes so far. I’m hoping anyone whose name sounds like mine — Barack, Baraque, Barrack, Brock, other people named Barak — will post his (her?) own stories of growing up with a name that sounds like this and, maybe more interestingly, of what it’s like to be a Barack or Barak in the Obama era. What’s the funniest thing anyone’s said to you lately? The dumbest?

So this is an invitation. On this site you can read about growing up Barak (or Barack). Or better still, some of you can post about it. Leave your story of having a Barack soundalike name in the Comments area below, and I’ll post the best as real posts in the main area of the site.


John said...

OK, I'll bite, Barak. My name is Jonathan (also biblical--Jonathan was one of li'l David's buddies I think). And being Jonathan is not such a big deal, except that it seems to exhaust some people to say it. It irritates me when Californians, particularly, just shorten my name to "Jon" willy-nilly! I mean, if the checker at a grocery store looks at the name on my debit card and says, "Thanks, Jon, have a nice day", that's stepping over some line isn't it? Just sayin'

This doesn't even address the fact that my family call me "John", which really throws people off who do the same, but with the wrong spelling.


Lord Zim said...

I can see the issues inherent in having a fancier version of the second simplest, second commonest name in the Anglo-Saxon World (I'm counting "Bob" as the simplest, commonest name in the A-SW), but I'm not sure you could possibly have any idea what it's like to live as far outside the naming pale as we Baraks and Baracks and Barakas do.

OTOH, if a checker handed me a receipt and said, "Thanks, Barry, have a nice day," it wouldn't make me happy.

At the very least, Jonathan, you can try to whip your own family into shape on this topic. Consider distributing fruitcakes emblazoned with your desired appellation this holiday season.

But physician, heal thyself. You posted this note as "John." What are we to make of you? What are you to make of yourself?