When I was born my parents had this – I won’t call it compromising – idea to give me a different name on my birth certificate than they would actually call me. The fact that my ID says William while everyone calls me Bill is disconcerting for many people and an interesting analogy as for the confusion between society and government.
While in the US and the UK, the fact that the name William transforms for the most part into Bill in spoken language is well known, people in other countries definitely struggle with that concept. Now I’m not writing this article to whine about the confusion, I’ve been confronted with bigger problems, but much more because it tells an interesting story about how people react to government.
The birth certificate is an official document that is the very first record of any citizen. What makes it official? By official we only mean that there is a fancy stamp on it and that a government employee drafted it. People attribute a high meaning to the word official, they equate it with what government does. It is language and their education that tells them: A government “official”, an “official” notice, a government “approval”, an “official permit”, etc. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that “official” has no more meaning than the fact of being recognised by someone else as that. For example, you can be the official fan group of a band, but how official you really are is dependent on how many people see you as such.
Leading me to the argument I then have with people who find out that on my passport it says William and not Bill. “Oh so your name is actually William.” Well no, people call me Bill, everywhere I go that is the only name I use. It’s on my name tags and I stood for parliament with this name, from family, to friends to acquaintances, everyone says Bill. Then what is so official about the name William that would make people change their mind about it? And that is what is telling about this story, it’s that: people value the government issued official document so high, that they consider the practicalities and the useful to be wrong. It is the lifelong problem of accepting authority to such an extend that it can influence what society can do pretty much on its own.
And it ultimately is the same reason why people are so fearful of privatisation or society generally doing things on its own. Questions like “who will build the roads?!” or “healthcare just wouldn’t exist!”. I say this, yes we are, and yes it would! We are better than every government “official” ever can be. We built roads and cared for each other before there were government institutions, and yes, we even managed to give ourselves names.
Bill ..or whatever