– By Dr. Edward Mims Mobley –
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Those were the words Shakespeare gave Juliette to reassure Romeo that his having the Montague name, a family hated by her Capulet kin, did not lessen her love for him.
At our birth, we are given a name. Parents usually give much thought to the naming of their children. My parents had to do it only once, and since I was a boy child, their task was easy. They just added Junior to my father’s name. I was always called by my middle name, just like my father.
A recollection of how and when it occurred totally escapes me, but somewhere along the line I acquired from the federal government a Social Security Number. When I turned 65 and became a beneficiary of Medicare and monthly monetary benefits, no longer could I sign my name as Mims Mobley. Overnight I became Edward – at my doctor’s office, at the drug store, and on any government documents, government business requiring one’s first name (I wonder if J. Strom Thurmond’s senatorial paychecks were made out to James Thurmond). I’ve adapted to my name change, but I’m not sure how long even that may last. Nearly every government form requires that one’s SSN be given for further identification, and let’s face it, many people may have names alike, so numbers work in computers much better than names as long as no two people have the same number.
A few years ago, I sought to learn about a relative, most surely deceased for at least 30 years, who years ago had fallen beneath the family radar. He had never lived outside South Carolina, and I thought getting a copy of his death certificate would be a simple matter. Wrong!
From a trip to the local DHEC office, I learned that only Greenwood County deaths are recorded there and with no link to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, I would have to go there for a certificate trace which would cost $25. So I went to Columbia, found the right building and approached the receptionist with check and form in hand. That was as far as I got. I was told that they would need either a Social Security Number or date of death to do the trace. Well, duh! If I knew that much, I probably wouldn’t have needed their help to begin with.
It was a great disappointment to learn that with computers being able to store and retrieve all kinds of data, our state agency was unable to reference by name as well as number. The lady suggested that I check with the State Archives. I did and learned that such information isn’t transferred there until 50 years later. By the time it reaches them, I shall be a final statistic at the other place.
I visited the town where he might have last lived. Locals didn’t remember him or his wife, and no information was forthcoming from any of the cemeteries in the area. I knew he had surgery in a Charleston hospital about 1955 or 1956, and hoped that his SSN might be recorded there, but on a recent trip to the record room of that hospital, I was told they didn’t keep records that far back.
So it looks like what I know about this deceased relative is all I or future generations will ever know.
Folks may know us by one name while the government knows us by another and a number too. It looks like the number is of increasing importance to government and of sole importance, once our number is up (pun intended).