Until this moment, I’ve never really given more than five minutes thought to my surname.
Until this moment, I’ve always considered it a fine name – unusual but not weird, unremarkable but not commonplace, occasionally misspelled but pronounceable. It’s a perfectly innocuous one-syllable utterance, resistant to vulgar puns, blandly non-ethnic, evocative of nothing.
Now, though, I’m in the market for a new last name. Mine’s been contaminated. “Baine” is suddenly a pain.
For weeks now, news consumers have been inundated with headlines about Bain Capital , the private-equity firm once run by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And with that repetition, “Bain” has become a shorthand for predatory “vampire” capitalism, fairly or unfairly – which is a different discussion altogether.
“Candidates bicker over Bain,” “40 percent turned off by Bain,” “Obama drops the Bain bomb,” “Bain destroying GOP’s image,” “Bain causes cancer, hates children, and wants to sleep with your wife.”
It’s annoying but tolerable if I work to avoid it. You know, like flesh-eating bacteria or, worse, traffic on Highway 1.
But then came the new Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” in which a long-time Batman nemesis gets his high-profile moment as a particularly monstrous villain, a kind of steroidal Hannibal Lecter.
His name? Why, of course, it’s “Bane.”
And here I sit, spelling-wise, an amalgam of the two – “Baine” being “Bain” and “Bane” joined in perfect typographical matrimony.
The link was not lost on Rush Limbaugh – our political system’s own flesh-eating bacteria – who last week fulminated in his patented over-the-top style that obviously Hollywood liberals were using a blockbuster summer movie to make a transparent swipe at the poor, beseiged Republican candidate.
Like 99 percent of what comes out of Limbaugh’s mouth, the charge was just a spitball directed at his political antagonists that had no relationship with the truth. Bane had been part of the Batman universe for years and, in fact, the script for the new film was written long before Romney became the GOP frontrunner.
Considering that my own loathing of Limbaugh is as deep and vast as the seven seas, hearing him repeat my family name ad nauseum was an experience that pushed me into new levels of rhetorical disgust.
On top of all that, “Dark Knight,” starring Bane, is now forever associated with the enraging and heartbreaking mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. And allow me to break from the jokey tone of this piece to express anguish over yet another gratuitous spasm of violence that seems to be baked into the American experience. Are we ever going to do anything to break the cycle of gun violence here in the U.S. of N.R.A.?
Now back to my meaningless, idiotic problems: So, you see the issue now with “Baine” – rapacious capitalist exploitation, toxic political partisanship, Hollywood excess, gun violence. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, my name is emblazoned across a nice shiny package containing America’s darkest pathologies.
Yet, I recognize that it could worse – much worse – as it is for people all the time. How would you like to be named “Sandusky” right about now? Every day, liberals named “Gingrich” and conservatives named “Sharpton” have been carrying the annoying burden of random name shame for years. I’ll bet there’s a Giants fan out there named “LaSorda,” or a Jewish guy named “Mel Gibson,” or maybe a smart, tasteful, modest, nice guy named “Trump.”
You would think that some names are so historically poisonous that they would die out naturally. Not necessarily. On a lark, I used People Lookup and searched the name “Hitler” and found 62 hits, including one unfortunate soul in Cupertino. There’s even more individuals in the U.S. with “Charles Manson” printed on their drivers license. Hmm, I’m guessing on-line dating is a tad challenging.
As for me, maybe this thing just must be endured as a soon-to-be-forgotten election-season meme and if I can just hang on, I’ll have my name back again. At least that’s the opinion of my friend Bob Swiftboat.
But if I’m changing my name, I might as well go for something awesome. “McCovey” is a favorite. “Caravaggio” works. How about “Falconer”? I could sell a lot of mediocre romance novels with a name like that.
I asked my Facebook friends to weigh in. Got a lot of riffs on “Baine” like “Dane” and “Brain” – well, that ain’t gonna happen. Others referenced famous Wallaces with suggestions such as “Cleaver” and “Andgromit.” Some were actually promising: “Tamale”? I think we have new frontrunner.
Perhaps the cleverest suggestion came from my buddy Chip, the head of the Santa Cruz Downtown Association who has lived for years with no surname. “You should use mine,” he said. He doesn’t know that I know, but Chip’s birth name is actually “Charles Manson.”
Of course, some people think it a sacrilege to abandon one’s family name, an act of disloyalty and even cowardice. But “Baine” apparently hasn’t always been my family name. Rumor is my great-grandfather added the “e” on the end.
Trace it back farther and you find “Baine” as a part of a pool of contemporary names that came from one particularly noble Scottish clan, the tartan of which hangs on my kitchen wall at home. Among those names are “Cobain,” as in the martyred demigod of grunge rock, and “Beane,” like the baseball G.M. played in the movie “Moneyball” by Brad Pitt, unlikely to ever play me in a movie – for all its faults, my name is at least more euphonious than “Brad Pitt.”
And the name of that Scottish clan?
Now that’s a name a lad can wear proudly. At least until McDonald’s decides to offer a vegetarian burrito.