Of all things in this world, roses are the lucky ones. Thorny as they might be they are blessed with one piece of good fortune to set them above the rest - that being their name and the widely acknowledged fact that by any other name they would smell as sweet.
This is fairly unique, a free pass on life's highway, because almost everything else is totally defined by their names. Almost everything else is shaped and moulded by a handful of letters given to them by people they don't even know years before they even have the chance or ability to object.
In its long form my defining label is Matthew. It's a biblical name along with the likes of Mark, Luke and John. Not that those disciple types were called that when they were gadding about in the Middle East causing a ruckus with their rehashed ideas on love, peace, honesty and a spiritual entity watching over us all. Back then I would have been called by the Hebrew name Matityahu, a verbal hop-a-long compared to the silky smoothness of its English incarnation.
There is nothing wrong with Matthew as a name. It's solid, it's dependable and for a while there back in the 1970s it seemed to be handed out to every 10th baby as a legal requirement. It got so classrooms would often have three Matthews each, and three Matthews is a disaster.
With two one would be called Matthew and the other known as Matt. A third one meant one of those Matthews would be sentenced to the name of Matty - a handle suitable only for two-year- olds or men who collect My Little Ponies.
Call me Matty these days and you're obviously insane. A black mark goes against your own name and while a smile may remain on face I have decided to hurt you in some mean and ridiculous way. No bull.
There are other problems with Matthew besides one shortened version making you sound like some doll-collecting idiot. Matt, the acceptable shortening, is horribly close to Mate, the common greeting title between two men.
There is nothing wrong with "mate" but should a country's flat- vowelled hit-on-the-head accent render Mate and Matt all but exactly the same, then things get difficult.
If you are addressed by name you must, as a matter of social survival, reply in kind with a name. If you don't know it you have approximately two minutes to figure it out by asking personal questions on such things as the health of their wife or growth of their children.
Of course, if you have never met them before and they did not actually address you by name as you imagined then this approach can make you appear somewhat deviant or at least a little bit strange.
It could be worse. I could be called Clinton. I could be called Marvin, Walter, Dale or Clarence. These are dangerous names. These can kill a man before he's even had a chance to live. Matthew won't do that. It's safe, good and clean but I sometimes lament it's a bit too clean, a fraction too safe.
No one who is about to meet a Matthew thinks that Matthew is going to be excitable, spontaneous or just that little bit zany. No one gets nervous with anticipation before they meet a Matthew. Instead they would assume he will be calm, politely shy and rather good-natured.
He might also have a joke or two, but nothing rude.
Now should that Matthew instead be called Max, things could be very different. With a Max anything is possible. A night on the town with a Max is a night you tell your kids about. That's the night you end up in a prison cell dressed as a donkey. A night out with a Max and you're never the same.
He's good-crazy and other- worldly and not because there is anything really special about him but rather his name frees him of the preconception he will be calm, politely shy and damnably good- natured.
Well damn you Max and your only slightly edgy name with its ridiculous X. Everyone knows you're really called Maxwell and used to wet your pants at school.
Safe and good as Matthew is, the name is severely limiting in terms of career prospects. I certainly could never be a cold-blooded and ruthless army sniper, drive a 400-tonne mining truck or be in any position where authority was required to be exercised. Matthews just don't have it.
Matthew is more suited to the inanity of middle management, to chairing the health and safety subcommittee on staff room hygiene than ordering people about for things that actually matter.
Most Matthews realise this and choose jobs in fields where even this laughable authority is not required, perhaps acting or accounting or conducting phone surveys for multi-national chemical companies.
Or, in some cases, tying themselves in knots painstakingly piecing together columns about peace, love, honesty and other inoffensive things so you might be momentarily distracted while you shovel your cornflakes down.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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