too much typing—since 2003


they've given me a number, and they've taken away my name

I've often thought it's ironic that people refer to feeling anonymous, generic, or as one of an interchangeable horde as being treated like a number: there is (as this post notes) more than one person with my name, but my SSN is unique. The real issue, of course, is that anonymity feels like lack of emotional contact and context, and numbers convey that more than names. There's no texture to a nine-digit number, no train of associations, no affectionate or rude shortenings or alterations. Names, though, being part of the language, are inextricably woven with our culture and our experience. And the further irony, then, of the number-as-anonymity trope, is that its uniqueness - i.e., its isolation, its lack of those connections language inevitably offers - is that which makes it seem cold and anonymous, whereas the "individuality" a name supposedly bequeaths us is actually a heritage in common and in connection with others. So the notion that numbers mark us as identical cogs in a machine, while names are expressions of our unique personalities, is exactly backwards - or would be, if we too quickly apply ill-fitting definitions of "unique" and "personality."

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