Monday, 26 July 2010

To Be Or Not To Be Called Paul


Paul Cézanne - Pyramid of Skulls
At the moment I'm thinking about my name. Paul Mendez has become dull. It's probably a wonderful name but in my head is stuffy and tarnished. A lot of people think it's exotic, and ask me where it's from. When I mention slavery they go all quiet.

The given name Paul, I actually like. Paul has a certain nobility to it, a gallic charm. Think of all the cool writers and artists, and general notables, who have been called Paul.

In history, there have been Paul of Tarsus (St. Paul), Paul of Thebes, Paul of Tammah, Paul of Norbonne, Paul Aurelian. Of the Vietnamese martyrs, six were called Paul; there were also six popes called Paul. Various kings have been called Paul, and princes, not least Prince Paul of De La Soul. There is something supremely dignified, regal, sublime and powerful in the monosyllabic, austere, pouty name of Paul. Deadly Hurricane Paul ripped through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the year I was born.

Paul is derived from the Latin Paulus, for 'small', or 'humble'. My ethereal sister Sarah, whose name means 'princess', used to tease me, but I have always taken 'small' to mean sublime or exquisite, and appropriated 'humble' in its best possible tense.

Then, look at all the glorious men of modern times who were christened Paul: Cézanne, Gascoigne, Gauguin, Getty, Klee, Krugman, Matisse, McCartney, Newman, Robeson, Scholes, Scofield, Smith, Valéry, Verlaine and Weller. Prefix Paul to any surname and it sounds distinguished. A variant of Paul exists in almost every language.

So, thank you to my parents for giving me the great gift that it is to be called Paul, although for a long time it seemed I didn't deserve it as everyone at high school called me by my surname, Mendez.

Don't get me wrong - I love my family and respect their name. It just isn't very pretty. It sounds uncouth. The 'l' of Paul and 'M' of Mendez don't go together. Paul Mendez. It sits uncomfortably in the mouth and trips inelegantly out of my negroid lips, although to be fair, that's more to do with the Paul than the Mendez. It is almost an embarrassment, a shame, to be called something so great. It is impossible to shout that vowel, unless you have a natural baritone, like Paul Robeson had.

Anyway, Mendez has to go. I'm not in a position to marry and take another's name; in any case, the quality of a surname can hardly be the question upon which to choose a husband (other variables, such as the size of the rock on offer count for more). It seems a terribly contrived thing to have to do, but if I am to become notable at some point for what I do, I don't want to be known forever as Paul Mendez. Moreover, paulmendez.com is owned by some twatty club DJ. He may well be a very nice guy, but he has my URL.

I've flirted with my two christian names, Paul John, and as much as they would be intended as two given names with a dropped surname, John will inevitably be taken to be my surname. Pope John Paul II was due to visit England later in the week of my birth, and I was thus named after his (mirror) image. My extended family have always referred to me as such, as I was the firstborn of my generation, and it feels like a sort of title. But I can't get the back-home image of the mediocre footballer Stern John out of my head. I know a girl with the surname John who is quite terrifyingly mad. Elton and Olivia Newton-John don't help matters. Switching it around to John Paul desecrates the honour of being called Paul.

I could drop both names and be simply Paul, but even I'm not that arrogant.

So, what could I possibly contrive to name myself? Do people often name themselves? How did Grace Jones settle on the change from Mendoza? Jones, rather like Paul, can latch onto almost anything. Paul Jones? A case of two rights making a wrong. Paul John Jones? Too close to John Paul Jones, and as much as I love Joy Division, I ain't no rock chick.

The name of this blog, The Stillborn Jeune Homme, came to me quite by surprise one day as I sat in the picturesque grounds of the University of Greenwich contemplating my poetry homework (I've no idea how these things happen. I was peeing at a urinal one day and suddenly exclaimed, Totally About Love). I have absolutely no idea what was stillborn about it or how the Anglo-French marriage came about, but it sounded great, as rosy and golden-grey as the Basket of Roses still-life by Henri Fantin-Latour that lent its image to New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies album sleeve, and it stuck. Jeune Homme, Jeune and Le Jeune have been used on various little one-off occasions since. Indeed I have just changed the name of my twitter account to http://www.twitter.com/monsieurlejeune.

Which bought me onto Paul Le Jeune, which I totally loved. Paul Le Jeune. Excited, I googled it to avoid disappointment. Of course there was a Paul Le Jeune, a seventeenth-century French Jesuit missionary, albeit one who was really rather wonderful and took it upon himself to educate slaves at a time when literacy was thought beyond such sauvages. Can I really afford to name myself after such a saintly figure? I used to be a rent boy, you know, and you know what the Catholic Church would think about that. I don't want to become notable, notorious even, and trash it. Oh I don't know. What shall I call myself?

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