Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Jane Hale (Courtesy Photo)

Coming Out: A living name

Names that live and breathe like we do, and that sometimes change like we do.

By Jane Hale

“look in my goddamn face

and see

my damn name.”

—Ed Roberson, “Cape Journal: At Sand Pile”

Friday morning, May 13. I’m sitting here in one of my favorite places in Juneau, Studio 2B at KTOO, where I’m about to start the Friday edition of” Soundings,” one of KRNN’s weekday morning music shows.

I’ve nicknamed my edition of the show “Episodes in the History of Noise,” a more fitting appellation for a wild jumble of punk, rock, blues, jazz, country, Irish, Calypso, Klezmer, Zydeco, medieval motets, Elizabethan showtunes, Baroque sonatas, Lakota honoring songs, Christmas carols all year round, whatever. If it’s recorded and I like it, I’ll play it.

My radio nom de guerre is Johnny Negotiable, a name I garnered from a 1976 review of a record by Johnny Paycheck (born Donald Lytle) that dismissed Paycheck as “… just another country Johnny with a negotiable last name.”

Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Gary U.S. Bonds, Johnny Dollar and his half-brother Fifty Cent — let’s cut to the chase: Johnny Negotiable.

I like the rhythm of it, two dactyls. And the ambiguous hint of irony. It makes me sound like I might be open to suggestions.

In the evening, Michelle and I go to Shabbat service, where our congregation’s student rabbi, Max Antman, holds a ceremony to change my Hebrew name to Sarah.

Max’s last name is pronounced ANT-mǝn, but I can’t help calling him after the Marvel superhero. (After all, the word rabbi is Hebrew for “superhero.”)

(OK, not really, but it can be interpreted that way. In fact, if you look at the Talmud, the collection of rabbinical commentary on the Torah, the text is laid out like an array of speech balloons in an imageless graphic novel. Biblical explication is represented not as dogma but as a conversation across the ages. A conversation between superheroes.)

This public domain image shows a page from the Vilna Edition of the Babylonian Talmud. (Public Domain).

Tuesday, May 17. I have my court hearing to change my legal name. Michelle and I and an entourage of friends squeeze into the small Courtroom F, which apparently serves also for excess furniture storage.

Sitting down at her bench, the judge asks for Ms. Hale. I look to Michelle, but Michelle doesn’t answer. The judge asks again for Ms. Hale, and Michelle motions to me with her eyes to answer the judge. Then it hits me.

In his last poem, “Epilogue,” Robert Lowell writes:

“We are poor passing facts,

“warned by that to give

“each figure in the photograph

“his living name.”

I once objected that the redemption Lowell advocates here serves only for poets, not for us normal folks.

But we’re all poets. We’re all trying to find the right words for our experiences and for ourselves, signifiers that say something true about what they signify. Socrates thought that all words originated as onomatopoeia. “The sound,” says Alexander Pope, “must seem an echo of the sense.”

Living names. Names that live and breathe like we do, and that sometimes change like we do.

On one level, names are all about power. In the story of Genesis, God gives humans dominion over Earth’s other creatures, so Adam’s first job in the Garden of Eden is to name all the animals.

But who gets to say what your name is? Who has dominion over you?

Here in Lingít Aaní, we see greater steps being taken toward restoring Indigenous place names — part of a larger effort to revitalize Alaska Native language. It’s a small step toward healing some of the racist damage done by a colonial cultural hegemony, but it’s a start if we can know our home by names that come from the very character and spirit of the place and that were used untold thousands of years before colonization. These are living names, alive with and perpetuating the Native heritage.

A living name, a real name, one that reflects where you’re from, the currents that carry you, the choices you make. Your name is yours to choose. I’m choosing mine.

Finally, speaking of names, let me end today with an apology—for all the poets, punks, and philosophers whose words run through my columns like wild uncontrollable children through the food aisles at Fred’s.

I’m an unabashed name-dropper. My mind is a quilt of other people’s ideas, so I credit the writers whose works I ransack for meaning. In my world these are the celebrities and superstars. Chris Rock and Will Smith? I’d rather hear what Cornel West has to say about the dust-up between Edward Saïd and Martin Buber. Or read new poems by my friends Kersten Christianson or Ed Roberson or Emily Wall. Or put on some new tunes by Fantastic Negrito.

I spent my formative years, i.e., my thirties (I’m a late bloomer), studying English poetry, reading continental philosophy, and listening to punk music–at New York City clubs with names like Max’s Kansas City. Everything that runs through my head gets filtered through those voices. For better or worse, they are my internal road map. They help me locate myself.

And Jane Hale is hard to find.

Actually, I think we’re all hard to find. It helps to know each other by our real names.

• Jane Hale spent her first 69 years writing as Jim. She is a longtime Juneau resident. “Coming Out” is a biweekly column. It appears on the Empire’s Neighbors page.

More in Neighbors

The author getting ready to host a holiday dinner for her family in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Patty Schied)
Cooking For Pleasure: Stuffed with turkey sandwiches? Try stuffing turkey enchiladas

Now that you have eaten all the turkey sandwiches you want, all… Continue reading

Page Bridges of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau. (Photo courtesy of Page Bridges)
Living and Growing: Heartbreak Hill

Trying to write about beauty and our need for it is hard.… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire File)
Community calendar of upcoming events

This is a calendar updated daily of upcoming local events during the… Continue reading

A public notice about one of several Thanksgiving proclamations President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
Living and Growing: Give thanks with a grateful heart

Happy Thanksgiving! Once again we celebrate what is a distinctively American holiday,… Continue reading

A female bear with her cubs: bears have direct-development life cycles, looking like bears from the time they are born. (Photo by Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: Animal life cycles

There are two basic life-cycle patterns among animals. Many animals have complex… Continue reading

(Jessica Spengler/CC BY 2.0 DEED)
Cooking For Pleasure: No trauma pie crust (that actually tastes good)

The secret is keeping all of the ingredients very cold.

Maj. Gina Halverson is co-leader of The Salvation Army Juneau Corps. (Robert DeBerry/The Salvation Army)
Living and Growing: Be thankful for the opportunity to care for ‘Others’

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we are reminded of the importance of being… Continue reading

A springtail perches on a wood railing, perhaps to eat microalgae. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Early November sightings

An early November stroll on the dike trail was uneventful until I… Continue reading

Fred La Plante is the pastor of the Juneau Church of the Nazarene. (Courtesy / Fred La Plante)
Living and Growing: Having an attitude of gratitude

Our world is quickly enveloped in negativity, but that attitude doesn’t help… Continue reading

Devil’s Club Brewing Company brewer Trever Held accepts an award at the 2023 AK Beer Awards competition at Williwaw Social in Anchorage on Nov. 3. (Photo courtesy of Brewers Guild of Alaska)
Neighbors briefs

Juneau brewers win 10 medals at 2023 AK Beer Awards The Brewers… Continue reading

Juneau Veterans for Peace President Craig Wilson, left, watches a procession of fellow veterans and others ring the Liberty Bell replica in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Nov. 11, 2022, during an annual Armistice Day observation. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Three annual events honoring veterans scheduled Saturday

Armistice Day bell ringing at Capitol; Veterans Day events at Centennial Hall and EPH.

The flowers of enchanter’s nightshade are tiny and often self-pollinating. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Enchanter’s nightshade

Enchanter’s nightshade is a tiny perennial plant we commonly see (and walk… Continue reading