My name is not Panama Jackson. I mean, it’s my name, but it’s not my name, ya know. It’s a pseudonym—a nickname created through some happenstance while I was trying to write and stay gainfully employed. Because of what I do for a living, Panama Jackson has significantly overtaken my real name in terms of personal connection and securing the bag. Of course, my family calls me by the gubment, as well as close friends and anybody who’s known me since way back when.
If you Google “Panama Jackson,” the vast majority of returns will be mine. If you Google my real name, you will have to wade through various other people before you find a hit that is tied to me. In Washington, D.C., where I live, Panama is my name out in these streets, accepted and welcomed by the vast majority of people I meet.
But there are always a few who struggle with this. And by a few, I mean those who always want to know my real name because they don’t do nicknames. As a point of fact, nine times out of 10, this is a woman. To this day, I can’t think of a single dude I’ve ever met who has been unaccepting of my name as Panama, including people I’ve done business with.
The reasons for using a person’s real name are understandable: 1) It establishes proximity when somebody is more known for a nickname; 2) It’s more intimate and personal. But it also has its time and place. While I’m often annoyed when folks who know my real name go out of their way to use it, most of the time, people respect time and place. When Jay-Z goes on television, even though we know his real name is Shawn Carter, the hosts and anchors and interviewers call him Jay. And I’m sure when he’s on television with his best friends in life, they refer to him as Jay.
Which brings me to this interesting clip from CNN the other day. Angela Rye was talking about gun control with Alice Stewart. Angela Rye (I feel a need to write out her whole name every time) pointed out that rapper-activist-actor Common was right when he rapped, “Tell the NRA they in God’s way” during his performance at the Oscars. She referred to him as Common. While they may have recently parted ways romantically, they have an actual relationship with each other. But she referred to him as Common. Until she didn’t.
Shortly after, as Alice Stewart called Hollywood’s elite hypocritical for having armed guards around, Angela Rye then pointed out that Rashid (Common’s middle name, but the name he obviously goes by among friends and family) is from Chicago.
It was an interesting “name code-switch” in that moment because I’m fairly certain that Alice Stewart has no idea what Common’s real name is. Why would she? He has a very popular name that he performs under. Angela Rye was clearly pissed at the conversation she was having and maybe unintentionally slipped into homegirl mode and let the familiarity ride, but it was interesting that she did it in that moment. I’d wager that most people watching had no idea who she was talking about when she said Rashid. Even context clues, like pointing out that he’s from Chicago, aren’t necessarily going to clear it up for a casual viewer.
Sure, I know his name and lots of others do as fans of hip-hop, but still. Time and place. Now, I’m not going to project any reasons that I think she threw his government name in there. I don’t righteously know. I do know that I wasn’t completely surprised by this.
I was somewhat surprised because CNN is a professional setting, and clearly, if Common were on CNN, he’d be there as Common. Angela Rye is a professional and knows that, so I don’t think it was intentional. I doubt she forgets that his stage name is Common. Chances are that for the vast majority of time before she met him personally, he was referred to as Common by all. Obviously she knows that, since she referred to him as Common the first time, as well.
It’s truly inconsequential, but I noticed. As somebody with a prominent nickname, one that is largely the reason I get invited to places to speak or participate in things, I’m used to people being sure to let me and others know that they know my real name, typically in a “Don’t front; I’ve known you since way back when” way (this happens on Instagram ALL THE TIME).
I’ve definitely SEEN somebody do the “Who, Panama? You mean XYZ?” and I was confused about the reasoning, as were the people they were talking to because my real name was not necessary in that moment. I’m a professional, and my name is my professional name.
I realize that the black community especially has a nickname-rich culture. I have had and still do have several nicknames. They’re not typically frowned upon. But there’s a difference between calling somebody by their childhood nickname at their place of employment and using a professional pseudonym that is used to secure the bag. And I always find it funny when people decide not to respect that in settings where the nickname is the reason for the occasion. My name is my name.
On the other hand, there is always the one concrete reason that absolves anybody who uses the government in public when it’s not appropriate:
“His mama named him Clay, Imma call him Clay.”
Ain’t that right, boo? True.