My father waited 34 years to tell me the news.
"Bazer," the surname he passed down to me, and which I've long cherished for its uniqueness, its slight air of mystery and its "Z," is, it turns out, hardly innocuous, and even less mysterious.
Dad: Son, I have something to tell you about your name.
Dad: It means 'angry person' in Yiddish. I wanted to tell you now so that ... son, what are you doing? I'm just telling you the truth. Put me down. Please! Stop! No!!!!!!!!!!!!
Alas, my father, may his soul eternally burn in hell, was right.
A quick Web search revealed, according to the Family Education Network, that "Bazer" is a variant of "Beiser," which is a "nickname for a wicked or aggressive person, from Yiddish beyzer (meaning) 'wicked,' 'severe,' 'bad,' 'angry,' 'fierce.'"
What was going on that day in my ancestors' village, or shtetl, when the names were being handed out? When everyone else took on titles befitting their professions, what kind of raving, unemployable lunatic must the original Bazer have been? My word, what possibly could he have done to be given such a name? Murder the fiddler on the roof?
Being saddled with the knowledge that your last name could quite simply mean "bad" is hard enough to take. But then there's the matter of my first name: Mark, which — let's go to the Family Education Network again — means "warring," "warlike" or the much more peaceful "hammer."
So, "Mark Bazer" means "Warlike Angry Person." In other words, it's the most violent, despicable name a human being could have. (Actually, check that. Had my parents gone with "Marc," it'd be worse: "Warlike Angry French Person.")
The question I now face is where to go from here. Once word of the meaning of my name spreads, will my colleagues and friends finally begin to fear me for the power and cruelty they know I can unleash? And do I have to start lifting weights?
Armed with this new knowledge, I've also begun to ponder how much more powerful, how much more evil, some of the greatest villains or all-around angry characters could have been had they benefited from a simple name change.
Would Marvel Comics genius Stan Lee have had more success if he'd discarded the name "Hulk" and gone with "The Incredible Mark Bazer"? Should we now have "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bazer"? Is it too late to change the White House stationery to read Vice President Mark Bazer?
On the flip side, I wonder if instead of reveling in my newfound badness, I should now be doing everything in my power to distance myself from my name. Should I devote the rest of my days to walking the earth renouncing cruelty wherever I go? To toiling for peace at every opportunity? Or would this tack end horribly wrong, with my birth name ultimately overpowering me and an entire village of kittens slaughtered?
You people, with your names like "Hope" and "Faith" and "Sunday Rose Kidman Urban," can never understand the inner turmoil that I now must face each and every day.
Oh, what could my parents, who back then still remembered their fair share of Yiddish and must have known what my first name meant, been thinking? "Why, pray tell, did you name me Mark Bazer?" I asked my mom this morning.
Alas, it was hard to make out what she was saying from the inside of my trunk.
Mark Bazer can be reached at email@example.com or at www.markbazer.com . He hosts The Interview Show the first Friday of every month at The Hideout ( www.hideoutchicago.com ). His next show, Sept. 5, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., will feature hip-hop poet Kevin Coval, jazz artist Frank Catalano and Blewt! Productions creative director Steve Gadlin.
(c) 2008, Mark Bazer. Distributed by Tribune Media Services. Originally published in Chicago in RedEye.