John Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
I studied Arthur Miller's The Crucible for my Literature A Level and to be honest, compared to the splendour of Under Milk Wood and Richard III, my other set texts, I just didn't take to it. And what I particularly didn't get was John Proctor's refusal to sign his name to a confession of witchcraft in order to save his life. Surely, I thought at the time, it is only a name.
I've not given The Crucible too much thought since then. But it came into my head again this week when reading about the use of dead children's names for undercover officers in the Metropolitan Police. I've been surprised by how horrified I am by this, not least because I thought the country suffered a mass over-reaction to the Alder Hey organ scandal.
But I feel very strongly that the names we gave our children were a gift from us to them. As the language of the reporting of this case suggests, it is not just a name that has been stolen, but an identity. Their given names reflect their cultural heritage, their religious heritage, the age in which we live and our own taste and, no doubt, our class, and that's before their surname has been taken into account.
I don't buy into the need to choose a unique first name for children. Not for me made up names or unusual spellings. But I would be very very surprised if they shared their whole name with anyone else in the world, given they have an unusual surname with my surname as an extra given name. For it to be used by anyone else, be it a fraudster or the police, would be theft of something most precious. Add to that the fact that it's not just identity theft, but theft from dead children, and I find it all hugely abhorrent. Why? Because, as Arthur Miller knew, and I now know, it is their name.
Related post: What's in a name?
I just emailed someone I used to know through work this week. She was convicted of a criminal offence that she says she didn't do. I asked how she was and whether her career was back on track. Her main concern, she said, wasn't her career or friendships, it was to clear her name.