I ended up yesterday thinking about names, because Harley had a lot of names. What was his real name? What was his most secret and true name? It almost certainly wasn’t Harley.
I used to think his real name was John Davidson. I don’t know how I came to believe that. But I suspect it was yet another untrue name.
The plain fact of the matter is that I simply don’t know what his real name was. And I never will know. I’ve received several suggestions. But I see no obvious reason to believe that my correspondents are in possession of the true and real name of Harley.
For me Harley has become The Unknown Soldier (or perhaps the Unknown Sailor), known only unto God. He was someone fighting on our side in this crazy war that we’re all fighting.
People adopt pseudonyms. And when they do this, they multiply themselves. They become a cloud of names. And the more names they’ve got, the more tenuous their existence becomes. Real people have only ever got one name.
There are lots of reasons for people to adopt pseudonyms. Harley was a frequent commenter on various forums, and got regularly banned from them – whereupon he would acquire a new identity, a new name, and masquerade under that until he got banned yet again.
And some people just want to stay out of sight. They don’t want any prominence. So they use pseudonyms, and nobody ever knows who they really were.
I read last year that Barack Obama used a pseudonym in some of his emails. I think the idea behind that is that a casual reader would not discover that he was reading the words of the President of the United States. Only insiders, like Hillary Clinton, would know the true name buried under the pseudonym. And I suppose that Hillary Clinton probably used a pseudonym too. Maybe everybody had pseudonyms. And perhaps this was the secret and true email scandal. It wasn’t that she had an insecure email server in her bathroom: it was that she was moonlighting under multiple pseudonyms, all of which had been effortlessly uncovered by Russian intelligence agencies.
And what is anyone’s real name? Wasn’t Hillary Clinton once known as Hillary Rodham? Which is her real one? Married women usually change their name to that of their husband(s). They become more and more people, every time they marry. So Jackie Bouvier became Jackie Kennedy and then Jackie Onassis.
Marilyn Monroe was really Norma Jean Mortenson. Or was it that Norma Jean Mortenson was really Marilyn Monroe? After all, isn’t Marilyn Monroe much more well known?
Most people round here know me as Frank. But some people might say that my real name is Chris, because that’s.what they know me as. Christopher is my first or Christian name. Francis is merely my middle name. At school I was usually known by my surname, Davis. Occasionally I was even Davis2. It was my choice to shift to using my middle name, because it was the name of my Spitfire pilot uncle, and I felt I needed a bit of the spirit of The Few in the face of the massed bombers of Tobacco Control. And anyway Chris had been my own choice, at age 17, for what I wanted to be called. And it served perfectly well for the next 40 or 50 years.
Whenever you change your name, you become a different person. Chris Davis is not quite the same person as Frank Davis. They refer to the same man, but to different people in the same man. Chris was a kindly, dreamy sort of guy. Frank’s much tougher.
I can never handle anyone changing their name. I had a friend once called Neil who declared one day that he was now called Leonard. But I couldn’t handle it. And so our friendship died, simply because I no longer knew what to call him.
And I knew Harley as, well,… Harley. I didn’t know him very well. I think other people knew him much better than I did. I valued him for the links he dug up. They were ammunition. Any number of posts of mine have started “H/T Harley”.
And now I’m told that he’s dead, and is buried six feet under Kentucky’s soil. And that that wasn’t his real name anyway.
Perhaps nobody ever dies. It’s just that everyone agrees that they’ve died. It’s the consensus opinion. My uncle Francis bailed out of his Spitfire over the Mediterranean sea, and was never seen again. He was posted missing, presumed dead. But I suspect that his family carried on hoping that he was still alive. They probably never got closure. They could never agree that he was dead. His mother never got over it.
And everyone seems to agree that Harley is dead. Who am I to dissent? After all, I never knew his true and secret name.
Perhaps I should inter him in the Smokers’ Graveyard? He’s another casualty, isn’t he? But what name do I put on the headstone?