This is written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names. It is mainly true, with a few details changed in order to respect the privacy of others.
Many years ago I lost a friend to suicide. All his life, from long before I met him, he was known by a nickname. I knew him for months before I heard anyone call him by his real name.
He was always upbeat, always smiling, always trying to lift everybody else’s spirits. His death sent shockwaves through the community where I was living at the time. And yet, although I didn’t anticipate his suicide I can’t say I was surprised.
After he died, I never thought of him by his nickname again. In my memory where the picture of his life was complete, that name belonged to a persona, while behind the mask the real man was floundering. It all made perfect sense, in the cruel glare of hindsight.
So that I would never curse my failure to spot the signs again, I took a suicide intervention course and learned a lot. I am tuned in to people’s language, how they talk about themselves; how they talk about the future. I am especially aware of the jokers.
Not so long ago a man asked me if he could have a quiet word. I knew straight away he was in a bad place, but was willing to be helped. We talked through everything and got to the root of the problem. Next step was to find a way to move on, to shift his outlook and to establish a good support network. I felt reasonably confident that he had sought help in time and that he would be ok.
But I was a little surprised that he had approached me. We knew each other through mutual friends, but had seldom exchanged more that pleasantries. So I asked him why. Had he known that I was trained in that area?
‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why, I just knew you were the right person to talk to. Maybe it’s because you’re the only person apart from my parents who calls me by my real name. To everyone else I’m just good old Jockster, always up for a laugh. I feel like I’m letting people down if I’m not like that all the time.’
A nickname can be fun but don’t lose sight of the multi-faceted person behind it. Names matter. A lot.