Swampy, and other names people play

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The Independent Online
You have to wonder about John Woodhams. He is a road protester, and yet he sounds almost normal. Or at least his name does. His fellow demonstrators lurking in the tunnels at Fairmile rejoice in appellations of a more exotic variety - Muppet Dave, Swampy and, of course, the 16- year-old girl pulled from the tunnel complex who announced to the world that she wanted to be called Animal.

It may be that for some reason this young woman likes to think of herself as a small furry creature. But let us leave that aside - even as we can step delicately over the question of whether Animal and her fellows are warriors for freedom and truth or a bunch of overgrown adolescents. The interesting thing is not so much the name she has picked as the fact that she has chosen just one.

There is something disturbing about people who present themselves to the rest of us using only one name. Of course, we are used to it in the world of music with Madonna, Sting and Prince, though the latter has leapfrogged from a single word and, omitting entirely the letter stage (remember 007's M), gone straight to a mere squiggle. It has even crossed to the classical world with the much promoted wet-T-shirted violinist Vanessa-Mae.

But if it tells of marketing it also speaks of a consuming arrogance - not just the manical egotism of someone like Christo, the German wrap- artist whose ambitions enfold entire buildings, but just as aptly the righteous moral certitude of a road protester.

There is historical precedent. The greatest exponents of the single name are those who inherit the device and with it, notionally at least, the trappings of power. Prince Edward may style himself Ed Windsor in the theatrical world but his fellow royals all still sign themselves with a single name. Monarchs always have. And from Hirohito to Hannibal those who have exercised power in whatever fashion have been know to their fellows by one name only.

It is OK for foreigners just to have one name. In Brazil footballers (Pele, Emerson, Juninho) have just one, and in Indonesia almost everyone (Sukarno, Suharto, etc) is so limited.

History, also, makes a difference. In earlier epochs everyone managed with just the one name. No one in the Bible has two, not even Jesus himself. God, ineffably enough, goes further. He does not even have the one. Originally the Hebraic Yahweh was spelled YHWH for the full name was too sacred to be used.

Perhaps our mono-nomers have a new motive. In traditional magic, control was obtained over others by discovering their name. Those who devise our social security regulations may work on a similar principle. Or is that too venal a thought?

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