What’s in the names we give our children? Contemporary parents might choose names to honor ancestors, to signify something from the family’s religion or ethnic heritage, or simply because the parents like the name.
In ancient times, a person’s given name had a meaning, a clue to that person’s character. For example, the Hebrew meaning of my given name, David, is “beloved.” Perhaps you the reader know the meaning of your name.
Given names in past centuries were meant to offer a clue to that person’s character — or at least what that person’s parents hoped would be the child’s character. The meaning of a person’s name was to be taken seriously.
In ancient terminology, if I, as someone named David, acted in a loving way, then I was living the truth of my name. Whenever I, as someone named David, acted in a mean or nasty way, as I’ve been known to do, then I was “taking my name in vain.” Put another way, whenever I have behaved in a nasty way, I have been living at odds with my name. I have been living a lie.
But it is not only my first name that means something. The name “Carlson” isn’t so common in America, but is very common in Nordic countries, my family’s heritage. To bear the name “carl” in medieval Scandinavia signified that the person was a “free man,” not a serf or slave.
Someone named “Carls-son” was the son of a free man, even as someone named “Carls-dottar” was the daughter of a free man.
I am proud of my name, but of late, I have also felt ashamed of being a Carlson. The shame I feel is caused by Tucker Carlson, a popular right-wing commentator, who is doing his very best to “take the Carlson name in vain.”
Tucker Carlson has a very distorted view of what it means to be free. As one of the most outspoken proponents of white supremacy and the bizarre belief labeled “replacement race theory,” Tucker Carlson spews fear and hate.
Like all extremists, Tucker Carlson hides behind “free speech.” But I wonder, in the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo and the shooter’s white supremacy “manifesto,” if Tucker Carlson didn’t recognize in the language of the shooter’s manifesto words quite similar to some of his own comments.
In the age of the internet, we no longer live in a time when “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Before the Buffalo killer wrote his manifesto, dressed in full combat gear, and opened fire on innocent, and mainly Black, Americans, he feasted on a diet of racial slurs and the perverted ideology of white supremacy.
So, Tucker, from one Carlson to another, I want my good name back. You are not a “carl,” not a free man. I suggest you change your name to Tucker Mucker, for that at least is something you can live up to — slinging muck.
David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected]