What's in a Name?

by Matt Soriano | 2/25/03 6:00am

We all know the tumult over the administration's attempts to shape a unique Dartmouth identity. In my case, however, I think they've already won. When I first signed onto BlitzMail back in 1999, I was shocked and chagrined to find out that due to the way some unknown data entry specialist entered me into an admissions computer, I would forever be known as "C. Lopez Soriano." That's right. The three parts of my name (Carl Matthew Lopez Soriano) that are least often used were immortalized for the rest of my academic lifetime. This has caused me no end of consternation over the past three years.

Indeed, in retrospect I realize that right then and there I should have made a great hue and cry about ethnic discrimination. I had a heck of a case right then. Obviously the Dartmouth College Registrar should have known about the Filipino-American practice of assigning mother's maiden names to their children's last names. My identity as a valuable member of Dartmouth's vibrant and diverse community was subsumed into the infrastructure of the Western ethnocentric patriarchy. If I had pursued that lawsuit, things might be different around here. Dartmouth's vast resources would be dedicated towards "righting a historic wrong." We'd have a "Dean of Filipino-American Affairs" and "Little Manila" affinity housing fully outfitted with a giant wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall, rice cookers in every room and severe penalties for wearing footwear other than flip-flops inside the house. I personally would settle for getting the Courtyard Cafe to serve fried rice with SPAM for breakfast. It's at least as unhealthy as most of the other stuff they serve there.

Yet since I'm a more easygoing guy than most of my columns would indicate, I've put up with the mild schizophrenia that arises every single term at the first roll call. I hear "Lopez? Lopez?" and there's an overwhelming urge to let my "Lopez" avatar get an absent mark for the first day. I'm not Lopez. I'm Matt. Lopez was my grandparents' name and both of them are dead 9,000 miles away. Yet ultimately I must confront "Lopez" and correct the professor. I don't like people to get too comfortable with him.

I'm sure most readers wonder how I got into this mess of using middle names instead of my first name. Why do I prefer the name Dartmouth forgot to the first name that my parents assigned me? There's a damn good reason why: my board-certified physician parents must have been so tired from the struggle of getting nine pounds and 11 ounces of bouncing baby boy out of my mother that they incorrectly anglicized my father's first name. From Carlos they went to the first analogue they could find in an English baby book: Carl. By my parents' account, "Charles" never made it into the equation that cold winter's night in 1980. As such they condemned their kid to having a first name that could never be turned into a nickname like "Chuck." They gave him the same sounding name as Karl Marx. They gave their only son the same name as Homer Simpson's drinking buddy, for crying out loud!

The ignominy of "Carl" haunts every time I return to the Philippines. Apparently my mother took me there once before I could talk and thereby resist the urges of well-intentioned relatives to give me a nickname. To that end my relatives cooed, gushed and fussed over the gurgling little bundle of love and decided that "Boy Carl" was a worthy addition to the Pantheon of famous Sorianos. And for the rest of my conceivable lifetime, when he returns to the Philippines, "Boy Carl" will be jetlagged, suffering from traveler's diarrhea and downright furious that all these people purporting to be uncles and aunts don't get his name right.

This is because in the intervening years I would realize the benefits of being called "Matt." It's the 3rd most popular for boys born in the 1980s. As such there were always three or four kids in my elementary school classes with the same name. I was part of an exclusive clique of guys named Matt -- Matt S, Matt H and Matt R had an air about them entirely distinct from the guys who didn't have initials after their name. Soon I realized the distinction that could be had from having an initial preceding one's name -- it sounded very patrician and grown-up. Plus it made my dad happy that I was finally acknowledging some aspects of "Carl."

Thus was born the contemporary C. Matthew Lopez Soriano. Please call me Matt. I share names with Alfonso Soriano and Jennifer Lopez. No -- I can't hit home runs, and I won't give you Ben Affleck's phone number. Please! No pictures. If you send my agent a self-addressed, stamped envelope, I'll send you an 8 X 10 glossy. Yes, I'm sure that one day you'll be as unique as I am, but you'll have to try really hard. Join the fan club.

In June I will graduate away from C. Lopez Soriano. And despite the terrible job market, I revel in the big letters on top of my resume that tell the world who I am on my terms. After four years, I finally have a clean slate. I'll be C. Matthew, Matt, Carl Matthew, Boy Carl or whoever I choose to be for the rest of my working career. C. Lopez Soriano will fade to a sepia-toned memory associated with pleasant college memories.