Questions about the name “Zero”

Well, hello there. Fancy meeting you here! I was just saying nice things about you. Looks like you’re wondering about my name, right? I mean, it couldn’t possibly be Zero, could it? Noooo. Who would name their child “Zero”. That’s not a name (ok, maybe it’s a pet’s name), that’s a number! Well, I’ve got news for your, my friend, so prepare to have your mind blown…

Q: Is Zero your real name?

No. Don’t be silly! Wait — Yes. Yes it is.

Q: Ok, but were you born with that name?

If you mean, “Is it your (my) birth name?” — Then yes, it is your — I mean MY — birth name. And yes, it is, in fact, on my birth certificate. And no, you can’t see it. Why not? Because I said so. But come on — did you seriously think I chose “Zero” to be “cool”? Because I agree — it is cool — but I didn’t pick it.

So yeah — with all the numbers my parents had to choose from (I’m not sure how many that is (I could never finish counting), but I’m sure it was a lot!) — I was lucky enough to get  “Zero” before all the cool kids did. Ok, so maybe it’s not quite as cool of a sounding number-for-a-name like: “Six”, “Seven”, “Fourty Two”, or even “Two thousand, two hundred and twenty-two”. But you know what? I’m ok with that. In fact, I love it. (Remember this — it’s going to come up again.)

Q: What’s your middle name, Knucklehead?

No, it’s not Knucklehead. My first middle name is Zachariah.

Q: Whoa! Hold on, buddy. You have more than 1 middle name?

Yes. I have two middle names. Not content with the oddity of having an incredibly unusual first name, life saw fit to bestow me with two middle names. Yes, two. (As if “Zero” just wasn’t enough!) “Zachariah” is my first middle name. And “Batzell” is the second. As you can see, there are a lot of “Z’s” in my name. Three “Z’s” to be exact (for those keeping track — Yes, you will be quizzed later). I always love when people say something intended to be cool like, “You think I’m dangerous, baby? Danger is my middle name!”. Sure, it works when your name is “John ‘Danger’ Doe”. It doesn’t work so well for “Zero ‘Danger’ Dean”. Zero Danger? Jeez, I can’t even be intimidating!

Q: Ok, Mr Z Man, what should I call you?

Zero will do just fine in most occasions. Or, if you feel the need to be more formal, “Mr. Zero” has a nice ring to it. I’m also fond of “Your Grace”, but I don’t want you to think I have a huge ego or anything. Unless you think that’s cool — in which case, I HAVE A HUGE EGO! But seriously, as far as formalities go, if you can help it, please refrain from calling me “Mr. Dean”. That’s my Dad. So if you say “Mr. Dean” anywhere near me, I’m going to look around and wonder if my dad is nearby. Besides, we’re friends, right? No need for formalities!

Having gone by “Zero Z. Batzell Dean” for years, 2001 marked the year where I finally did something intelligent and streamlined my name to what it is now, “Zero Dean”. “Why?”, you ask. Well, maybe it was the result of trying to reduce the cramping in my hand every time I signed autographs (um, I mean my signature). Or maybe I finally realized that my first name is challenging enough for most people!

Q: Zero Dean / Dean Zero? What’s up with that?

Explaining my name to every person who asks about it can be time-consuming. At one time I had this fear that if I continued to give an explanation to everyone who asked, I would look back on my life as an old man and realize I’d spent 1/3 of it explaining my name. Granted, that still leaves 3/4 of my life for cool stuff — like learning fractions (I still haven’t gotten around to that) — but still, for a guy that wants to maximize his life by truly living it, I didn’t think spending that much time explaining my name was gonna be in my own best interest.

So to make things easier on myself, I occasionally adopt “Dean” as my first name to avoid having to provide an explanation. But it’s ok, because I’m a ninja — and that’s the sort of thing ninjas do. Although, that sort of sounds more like what secret agents do…hmmm.

My friends often stand by and laugh when I do the name switch, but it really does make such things as ordering pizza or dealing with the public a lot easier. Of course, I’m “Zero” when I don’t mind the extra attention. But I mean, when would I eeeeverrrr want that? ;)

Q: What is a typical reaction when people first hear your name?

It varies. And age definitely plays a factor. Many people have a difficult time believing it is actually my name and jokingly require proof (ID please?). Others simply think they heard it wrong, “I’m sorry, what was that?”. And yet others will simply nod and smile — as if there’s nothing unusual about it at all. But I know what they’re really thinking is:

“You know — it almost sounded to me like he said his name was Zero! Hmmm — I could ask him to repeat what he said, but then I’d look uncool!”

I’m actually pretty confident that most people who just nod and smile when they hear my name are just trying to maintain a certain degree of “cool” by not asking me to repeat myself.

Have you ever had someone (usually a person you are not familiar with) tell you something, but you don’t think you hear them right, so you say “What?” And they repeat it, and you still don’t think you hear them right, so again you say “What?” And again, you get the same response? And by this third time, you’re too embarrassed to ask again, so you just nod and smile? Has that ever happened to you? Mhm. I thought so! Well, “Zero” is like the condensed version of that.

Anyway — while most people consider my name unusual (to varying degrees) when they learn what it is, folks who use it a few times often comment on how “normal” it seems after a while. And then shortly after that, they often realize (and admit) how cool it is to have such a unique name. BUT — Occasionally some people do have a difficult time with it. I guess they’ve learned to associate the word “zero” with something derogatory so they consider it an insult to call me by my real name. Some have even refused to do it.

I once met a girl who told me her family once adopted a dog named “Zero”, but they felt so bad calling the dog that, that they changed its name! And speaking of dogs named Zero — when I met Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters (there’s a photo around here somewhere), I introduced myself as “Zero”. And he said, “That’s my dog’s name.” — and his dog, the one named Zero, was actually with him. It’s ok Jamie, we can still be friends. ;)

Q: So why did your parents name you Zero?

To be frank, my parents just didn’t think I’d amount to anything. Maybe it was the way I drooled. But seriously — that’s not it. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe wasn’t it. I mean, I’m an excellent drooler — even to this day. But I digress!

Naming me “Zero” was Mom’s responsibility — and I’m actually glad! I will not admit in public what my biological father (they got divorced when I was 3) wanted to call me. And no, that’s not the reason they got divorced. Or maybe it is — I don’t know that for a fact. I just assume it’s not.

If you want to send me a nice bit of email and ask me what the name my bioFather wanted to call me, I might tell you — but you’ll have to be super nice. Sending money or swimsuit photos (if you’re a woman — and I suppose I should also add, “and you look good in a bikini”) probably wouldn’t hurt either (come on, I’m practically baring my soul here on this page — so I’m just being honest).

Needless to say, I assure you that despite giving me a name that means “loser” in some languages (mainly English slang), my mother loves me very much (at least she’s told me so on occasion). And so nothing negative at all was intended by it (or perhaps she really was just trying to make me feel better — who can really say? I cannot read my mother’s mind!).

Q: But where did the name Zero come from?

First, you have to understand my parents were — uh — “influenced” by the 60’s a bit. You might even say they were hippies. And if you did say that, I wouldn’t disagree with you. In any case, by the time I came about in the 70’s, they were still very much into the — uh — “hippie groove”, man. And if you know your hippie history — and I am sure you do — this was a time when a lot of parents were naming their children unusual things. I could’ve easily been named “Sako“, or “Peace”, or “Rainbow”, or “Dweezil”, or “Moon Unit” or “Flaming Unicorn Horn!”  or something — but instead, I got Zero. I don’t think my Mom ever considered what the consequences (for me) might be… Or maybe she did.

They say unusual names build character. I don’t know if that’s true. Do I have character? DO I? DOOOOO I?

Here are some of the things she mentioned as having an influence in my naming:

  • The Native American beliefs of the “circle of life” or the “medicine wheel”
  • Zero as in “absolute balance”… (The center of an infinite number system between positive and negative. A powerful place to be.)
  • The actor/comedian “Zero Mostel” (A.k.a. Samuel Joel Mostel. Press agent Ivan Black gave the starting out Mostel the nickname Zero: “After all, here’s a guy who’s starting from nothing.”)
  • The title of a Bob Dylan song, “Love Minus Zero”
  • It’s unique



Mahayana’s philosophical interpretation of “zeroness” (ṡūnyatā) led to a revolution in Buddhist thinking. Zeroness represented the lack of absolute value and substantiality of the phenomenal world. The notion of zeroness evolved from the earlier Buddhist teaching of anātman, or no-self — the denial of the substantial reality of the self and what belongs to the self — as a means to free one from attachment. The doctrine of zeroness, asserting the lack of self-identity and the lack of absolute separation in all things, became the central teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. In zeroness, all things are connected; nothing is absolute; nothing is separate; nobody is alone. Even Buddhist doctrines are seen as zeroness, not containing absolute fixed truths. Experience of this teaching is seen as awakening, as freedom, no other than prajna paramita. — The Heart Sutra by Kazuaki Tanahashi

Do you like your name?

I love it!

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be — I even said I loved it up at the top! Pay attention. For me, one of the good things about it is that it’s memorable. :) Though sometimes this can create complications since I don’t always remember other people’s names. So you can imagine people walk up to me and greet me by name and I haven’t a clue what their name is. Ugh. I’m still prompted to provide an explanation every time I’m introduced to someone (which has its ups and downs). I’ve pretty much learned to avoid giving my actual name over the phone when trying to order food for delivery, etc. :) (Fortunately, my last name is also a first name, so I typically give that one instead. It works).

Q: Did you get picked on a lot as a kid?

Yeah, but who didn’t!? Sure, Junior High was a little difficult at times. Kids can be ruthless… but you know what, kids pick on anything and everything. My name just happened to be an easy target. At least I didn’t have big ears! ;)

Q: What do people call you (or do you have any nicknames)?

Believe it or not, most people call me “Zero” — and I prefer that, actually.

However, I’ve had a lot of nicknames in my time:

  • “Zee” or “Z”
  • “Zippy”
  • “Null”
  • “Sub”
  • “Frank” (ok, I’m kidding with that last one — just seeing if you’re paying attention like I told you to) — but actually, the nickname that has stuck most in the past couple of years is, believe it or not, “Jimmy”.

Yes, Jimmy. Think about it — James Dean — Zero Dean — Jimmy. You see the connections here?

Q: Hear any good zingers?

Sure, how about these…

“What’s that, your IQ?” (that one’s pretty easy)

“Your parents didn’t think you would amount to anything, did they?” (or variations thereof)

(The unintentional insult) : “Well, I just don’t feel comfortable calling you Zero. Is there anything else I can call you?”

(Unintentionally insulting after hearing my name) : “I’m sorry!” (that’s not a “Sorry?” with a question mark to signify they didn’t hear me. That’s a “sorry!” with an exclamation point to signify that they’re sorry for my “misfortune”).

My personal favorite: “Zero? Why don’t you get a real number for a name?”

Q: What is it like being named Zero?

Only that most people don’t realize how many times the number zero is actually used in common, everyday dialogue, or how often it is printed in ads. I could cover my refrigerator with “Zero’s” cutout from the Sunday newspaper (ok, maybe a couple Sunday newspapers).

Also imagine what listening to a car advertisement on TV or radio sounds like to me:

Mitsubishi is proud to announce our Mike percent financing for Mike down for MIKE months sales drive! That’s right, MIKE PERCENT FINANCING for MIKE DOWN for MIKE months. We’re calling it our MIKE MIKE for MIKE sales drive!

There’s also:

The midwest is experiencing record lows this month, temperatures have dropped down to 20 below Mike! That’s 10 degrees lower than average for this time of year.

Conversation overheard at the mall: “Oh man, that girl is sooo hot. What are the chances that girl would go out with me if I went up and asked her?” Answer: “MIKE!”

Have you noticed all the products with Mike in the name or on the label? There’s Coke Mike, Sprite Mike, and all kinds of fat-free products… you know, with like Mike fat!

And every single math class I ever had…you cannot imagine (but think about it anyway). There’s really nothing quite like having someone say your name every 30 seconds for an hour.

And how about those products with “zero after taste”. Zero after taste? I don’t even want to think about that!

Q: Have you ever met anyone named Zero?

No. But I have been contacted a couple times by adults who, after reading this page and contacting me, decided to name their children Zero. True story. So I know there are a couple out there.

Q: Did you really have a (insert apparel) printed with ZERO on it?

No. Fortunately, there is a skateboarding company called Zero Skateboards that produces all kinds of great things with my name on them. So I pick and choose what I like and wear that. So yes — you, too can be just like me and own your very own ZERO hat or t-shirt or hoodie or belt!

I wrote to Zero Skateboards once — I mean, it seemed like the thing to do — and introduced myself. Mentioned my name was Zero. How I bought a lot of their stuff and regularly advertised it to over 13,000 people.

All they had to do was reply. That would’ve been enough for me.

They didn’t.

And now I hope they ban skateboarding EVERYWHERE!


(Just kidding about the banning part).

Click here for details about my new book.