Monday, November 10, 2008

Whose Name Is This Anyway?

This blog is supposed to be about my name and Barack Obama's name, but I've just discovered something so unnerving, I have to break protocol. As noted, my name used to be predictably rare. Now, every week seems to bring some new mainstreaming encroachment.

Today's indignity: Somehow, a screenwriter has given my name -- my full name, all two parts of it -- to a character in a crime movie about Hasidic Jews. The synopsis and proposed tag lines indicate that "Holy Rollers" (due next year) is about a super-religious Jew who gets involved in drug smuggling. Of course, my name goes to the morally bankrupt guy who lures the innocent into a life of crime. I wear the Wicked Son hat again.

But how did this happen? It's not like my name is Bob Jones. To my knowledge, only three people on Earth share it (and neither of the others has responded to my efforts at communication; one runs a research firm in Pennsylvania, and the other lives in Israel). So how on Earth did screenwriter Antonia Macia choose my name? Have we met?

If you know, please provide some intel in the comments section below.

Babies Making Headlines

Was it just two days ago that I typed "[a]fter thousands of babies are named after our first non-white President, my name may even become a commonplace"? It was! And now look:

Sunday's New York Times is already trumpeting the dawning of this blessed new era with a story by Jennifer 8. Lee entitled: "Like the Dwights and Lyndons of Old, Baby Baracks All Over." (Interesting for a web pro that the story has two titles: the above headline for human readers, and a simpler, blunter one for search engines ("Barack a Hot Name for New Babies").)

And here's a choice nugget:
“Honoring new presidents with baby namesakes used to be an American tradition,” said Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard.” But she pointed out that the custom faded around the time of Watergate, in part because people became more cynical about the presidency.
The gist of the story: Now that hope has replaced cynicism as a default attitude, gird yourself for a rash of presidentially monickered infants. And for names borrowed from Barack Obama's immediate family. And when that puppy finally shows up, you can bet dogs from coast to coast and Kenya too will answer to the same call ... whatever it is.

And finally, it's almost worth noting that this story about the number of kids named Barack was written by a woman with a number for a middle name.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barak Hussein Zimmerman

There. I did it.

Not really, but wouldn't it have been funny if I had?

What Can I Say?

In an earlier post today, I noted that my name has never been more time-consuming. People just want to talk about it. It's rarely the people I know -- it's everyone else. Often, they acknowledge how tired I must be of talking about the name Barack, even as they chatter merrily on about it. I'm not complaining; I'd just like a better, funnier way to respond. A few months ago, I told some friends I lacked a decent default response to comments on my name. One wag said, "That's easy: Just shake their hand and say, 'I'll appreciate your vote this November.'"

I did that a few times. It was an easy laugh, but it felt canned and kinda fake. In any case, the votes are in, and I need a new response. The hoopla may subside, and after thousands of babies are named after our first non-white President, my name may even become a commonplace. But till then, I'm looking for a charming way to respond to the endless remarks. If you have a suggestion, please provide it in the comments section below.

Rahm & Barack: Thunder & Lightning

My mom's been following Barack Obama's career enthusiastically ever since his 2004 speech. (She's been following my progress with some interest for a while longer.) Loyal readers of BarakorBarack may recall her little joke about my name (see earlier post).

Today, via the magic of email, she pointed out the trans-linguistic significance of Rahm Emanuel's name. As you may recall, my name means lightning in Hebrew, and Barack means blessed in Swahili. But Rahm -- and here's the weird part -- means thunder in Hebrew. So you could say that we'll soon have thunder and lightning in the White House. (Better than crooks and morons, he typed inflammatorily.)

The final wrinkle on the Rahm coincidence is that the newly appointed Chief of Staff's equally famous brother is named Ari ... which is my dad's name. It means lion in Hebrew. And of course, my dad also spells his name differently.

Oh, the endless fun. It's like I was born for this. In fact, when considering adding another entity to the family (way back when), my parents thought they'd name a boy Rahm. So, yes, we'd have grown up as Thunder and Lightning, and yes, we'd be in quite the conversational pickle now. Conveniently enough, none of that happened.

P.S.: As I was typing the last sentence, I got a Facebook message from a friend in Israel: "Your popularity must be skyrocketing now with such a name." Well, that's not exactly how I'd put it. But I'm open to skyrocketing popularity. My friend is a defense correspondent for a news channel; funny that he'd inadvertently include a munitions reference in a simple message.

Catching Up with Barak or Barack

Okay, okay, okay. I KNOW. I start a blog about my name and His Name, and then I not only abandon it but let Election Day pass without comment. What was I thinking? Well, I do have other things on my mind, and while this historic event has been among those most occupying my thoughts, writing about it has been of less import.

But now I'm back. For the last four years, my name has become steadily more noteworthy/time-consuming, and never has it been as much of a, uh, conversation piece as it is now. And I have so much to share. Are you ready?

The Volunteer

Five days before the election, I decided to do some "phone banking" (i.e., make calls) for His Campaign. Given His Landslide Victory, the urgency in that office was in retrospect almost comical ... but hey, that's how He won, right? So, I walk into the Hollywood offices of a firm called Partizan Entertainment (yes, with a Z, just like my last name), where about six people are talking animatedly on phones or to each other. I walk up to the oldest one and announce, realizing as I do so, how ridiculous this sounds: "Hi, my name is Barak Zimmerman, and I'm here to volunteer."

Everyone stops and looks at me, smiles broadening across their features. No one's smiling more than the guy running the show, who says, "Really?" He thinks I'm kidding, but not really, because what a dopey joke that would be. Plus, my sheepish smile makes it clear that I'm serious. Everyone who's not on a call is paying attention. It feels kind of like being a celebrity non-impersonator.

"It's been a long year for you, hasn't it?," he says.


"Is that your real name? I mean, do you have a nickname?"

"No, that's my name. No nickname. I have a blog about it."

"Well, my name's weird too. It's Haze."

"Haze? Is that short for anything?"

"No, it's an old, old family name. Goes back generations."

"Do you have a nickname?

"See? Now I've got you doing it too," he laughs.

The next thing he gets me doing is making calls. No script -- "I don't believe in scripts," he says. The volunteering is sort of meta-volunteering: We're calling people who'd volunteered during the primaries and asking them to staff call centers over the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday. I decide to simplify things by calling myself "John." And I do, at first.

But I'd had a beer before arriving, so my usual blinding intelligence is on hiatus. And so it came to pass that by the third successful call (that which yielded a conversation and not voicemail), I forget my alias and begin the call with: "Hi, my name is Barak Zimmerman, and I'm calling you on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign. How are you this evening?"

Naturally, this provokes a response.

And I wish I could tell you what that response was, but by now, I've been dealing with this for so long that they all blend into one another. Except the few I'm writing about.

Let's wrap up the volunteering story: It was fun to re-engage with the process, I was glad to be there, and not all the people I reached even noticed my name. It was a reminder of the accretive power of many tiny acts: As minute as my efforts seemed to be -- I got four people to agree to receive an email telling them where they might volunteer over the last four days of the campaign, and I crossed off a few dead numbers -- it was the collective power of thousands of people doing just such tiny acts that led to victory.

At a certain point, I overheard Haze talking with another person about editing a document. I thought my time might be better used editing than phoning, so I volunteered to lend my skills to improving a message he was planning to send to his loyalists.

The fierce urgency of his now was surprising to me, a reminder of the fervor that campaigns provoke. I recall walking door to door to rally my neighbors in another presidential campaign many years ago. Over the course of weeks, as we attempted to extract every possible vote from our block, I repeatedly disturbed one old recluse who never came to the door but would yell from her second-floor window that she wanted to be left alone.

Undeterred, I'd call back, "But can we count on you to vote next week?"

What a pain I was. And that guy did NOT win. Of course, that guy didn't have the Internet or Shepard Fairey on his side. Or my name.