Lots of people see my name (particularly on social media) and immediately refer to me as Dean – and I’m used to it. But that’s my last name. My first name is Zero. Yes, just like the number.
Others see “Zero Dean” and think it must be a pseudonym or a stage name. But no, it’s actually my birth name.
And believe it or not (you might as well believe it, because it’s true), I love my name – but I can see how some people consider it strange. Because, yeah, it’s a really unusual name. But that’s OK. In fact, it’s great. I think unusual names should be more welcome and appreciated than they are.
In the course of my life, I’ve witnessed a fair number of people make some pretty harsh judgments about unusual names or creative spellings — both online and in person. In fact, I’ve had friends make derogatory statements about unusual names in front of me – because they forgot I had one. Let me say that again. They forgot I had one.
If people can forget that a friend of theirs named Zero has an unusual name, then perhaps it’s not so bad if others have unusual names. And perhaps it doesn’t actually matter how those names are spelled – or, at the very least, perhaps it’s not our place to mock or insult someone (a parent or a child) because of it. Because it’s also not really our business and doesn’t have any impact on our lives.
It’s up to the person with the name to determine whether they like it or not and how they are going to use it. I love my name and I own it completely.
I’ve met many people throughout my life who were initially apprehensive about my name who grew to appreciate it over time (and really it didn’t take long).
Yes, I’m quite aware of how “zero” is used as an insult, but it would be silly to think that I accept that about myself or as an aspect of my name or my personality. It’s not an insult — not to me, it isn’t. It’s actually a powerful & memorable name that I happen to have and love.
So don’t be concerned about how I feel about it — nor afraid to use it. I’d actually like you to.
To answer some common questions:
WHAT IS A TYPICAL REACTION TO YOUR NAME?
It varies. Age definitely plays a factor. The younger someone is, the cooler they tend to think it is.
“No way! Really? That’s awesome.” or “That’s soooo cool!”
People my parent’s age are far more likely to respond in an unintentionally disrespectful way.
“Oh. Who would name their child that?” (while looking at me) or “I feel sorry for you.”
Ouch. Your disrespect and/or lack of self-awareness is showing.
One of the interesting things I immediately notice with people who aren’t immediately taken with my name is that they often try to find ways to avoid calling me by it. They’ll either ask if they can call me something else, simply make up a nickname, or avoid using my name. These are all signs of their discomfort with it and how they don’t consider it a name (despite the fact that I’ve lived with it for a pretty long time and I’m comfortable with it).
The fact is, the more that people refer to me by my name, the more comfortable they get with it. To the point that even people who were initially not sure about it eventually say: “Your name is awesome! I can’t imagine you having a common name.”
This has happened many times in my life. Which may be another reason why I see unusual names differently than some people. Of all the possible beautiful sounds and words made in all the languages in the world, why must the 7 billion+ inhabitants of this planet have only the same limited set of common names to choose from?
People’s aversions to unusual names are the result of societal pressures. Children don’t care what people are named (or what their skin color is or tons of other things that really don’t matter) until they are trained to judge differences or uniqueness as bad thing.
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 (as in Sub Zero), and Jimmy. Yes, Jimmy. Think about it — James Dean — Zero Dean — Jimmy. You see the connections here?
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?”
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING NAMED ZERO?
It’s interesting. 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 cutouts featuring “zero” 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!
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!
HAVE YOU EVER MET ANYONE ELSE NAMED ZERO?
No. But I have been contacted a couple times by adults who, after reading about my name and contacting me to discuss it, decided to name their children Zero. True story. So I know there are a couple out there.
WHERE DID YOUR ZERO APPAREL COME FROM?
The Zero Skateboards company produces apparel that just so happens to feature my name.
WHY DID YOUR PARENTS NAME YOU ZERO?
This is the question you really wanted an answer to.
Some of you may have guessed this already, but my parents were hippies. I could’ve easily been named “Peace”, or “Rainbow”, or “Dweezil”, or “Moon Unit” or “Flaming Unicorn Horn!” or something — but instead, I got Zero. And I’m happy with that.
To the best of my knowledge, the name didn’t come about as a result of a single thing. Instead, there were a number of things that influenced my mother into thinking it would be a good name…
- 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
ZERONESS IS FREEDOM
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