You know how when you give your order at a stand-up-coffeehouse, where quick service is given to customers on foot, they ask for your name and write it on the coffee container, so as not to mix it up with someone else’s order… At first I used to innocently give my name. Then it suddenly occurred to me to use some other name. A childish game, but I’ve been playing it ever since. Sometimes I pick the most outlandish names; it’s not enough to choose names I like or names thought to be charismatic. I pick as many weird names as I can find, as if to say: “God forbid my parents wanted to call me something original and picked this one.” You may think it a warped game; I could put on my psychiatrist’s hat and find other evidence to support your view, but that’s not the issue. We don’t often have the opportunity to choose a name for ourselves, but in a stand-up-coffeehouse I can become someone else and maybe live a different life, if not for as long as singers who take a stage name (Bad-tempered Virgin instead of Seyfi, Freddy for Faruk, and that one who calls himself Mercury) or the sultans who wrote poetry under a pseudonym, at least for the space of time it takes to order a cappuccino. Don’t begrudge me my complex.
Can anyone have a name like that? I suffered for a long time because my name is a bit unusual. It isn’t immediately clear if Yankı is a girl’s or boy’s name (both actually, even if those who delivered letters for me while I was at boarding school to the girls’ dorm didn’t know it); people said “yankı” (“echo”) was meaningless as a name, and during the years I practiced medicine in rural areas debated whether or not it was an “infidel” name (as if one’s name were what made one an infidel)… I read a study that made me grateful I hadn’t given up my studies in those years: People with unusual names often don’t finish their education. The researchers did not blame the children: a child who inherits genetically the unusual style of the mother or father who gave him the extraordinary name naturally cannot devote himself to so ordinary an activity education.
Children in the Ashanti tribe in Africa are named after the day of the week on which they are born. It is said that their nature is reflected in their names. A child named Kwardo (Monday) is calm and peaceful; one named Kwaku (Wednesday) exhibits an impatient, irritable and quarrelsome temperamentJ. Is this because once a child is given a name he feels obliged to behave in a manner worthy of it, I won’t venture to guess.
The name that “wipes out” autism. It was the parents of a patient diagnosed with autism who first gave me the idea that a person’s name could determine what happened to him all his life long (or as long as he kept the name). The doctor parents, daunted by the failure of every treatment they’d tried over the past four or five years, put aside their professional prejudices and began to seek “alternatives.”
A “specialist”—who based on what the parents said sounded like some kind of astrologer—had told them that the child did not like his name and that when his true name was discovered, he would begin to speak and overcome his autism. Of course the one who was to find the child’s true name was the specialist himself. He performed a kind of numerological operation (with numbers corresponding to the old Arabic letters and the numerals of the child’s date of birth) in order to find the new name, which the family began to use, expecting that within a few days the child would begin to use words and form sentences.
Perhaps you know that one of the primary symptoms of autism is that the child does not look up when his name is spoken (other early symptoms, such as not making eye contact or using his fingers to point to things may abate with time, but the essence of the disease is avoidance of communication except in case of urgent need). When the child began to look up at mention of his name, even if by accident, the parents interpreted it as proof he was cured and became avid promoters of the change of name treatment. As in the story of the gynecologist who claimed his child was cured by prayers inscribed on gold coins—true or false, no one knows—when people are in despair they don’t much think about what they are doing.
Countries have names too. Whenever our country is caught between despair and escapist fantasies, the idea takes hold that “we might overcome our bad luck, getting worse with every passing day, by changing the name of the country.” Maybe that was the kind of idea behind the project to require that English speakers call the country “Türkiye” instead of “Turkey.” Behind the decision on a new name for the state/country formerly called the Ottoman Empire when the Republic was founded, or the giving of numbers to periods of the republic—Second Republic, Third Republic—was there always a struggle to alter its fortune? I don’t know. Maybe if we could finally decide on our date of birth, the astrologers and specialists in inscribed/uninscribed gold coins could be more of a help. If not, they will decide our date of birth.
*translated by Victoria Hollbrooke