Who Am I?

Peter Wood

A little summer frivolity here.  This article is devoid of academic relevance except to the extent it assists readers who seek to distinguish between the Peter Wood who is president of NAS and several other people of the same name who hold faculty positions.  But mostly I am indulging a passing thought. 

Nearly everybody has at least one namesake:  a person with the same first and last name.  In the age of Google, Facebook, and the like, it is easier than ever to bump into this person.  Of course, it is often more than one person.  Some names crop up with the frequency of dandelions in the great lawn of search engines.  Finding the right “Joe Black” or “Sarah Smith” without a further identifier can be daunting. 

I belong to a category that seems in a happy medium between scarcity and over-abundance.   While hundreds of people named “Peter Wood” now walk or once walked the globe, we are not so common to trip over each other very often.  Occasionally I get a call intended for the Peter Wood who is a professor of history at Duke University, author of Black Majority:  Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1760 through the Stono Rebellion (1974).  This Peter Wood (Peter H. Wood) achieved notoriety during and after the affair in which LaCrosse players at Duke were falsely accused of rape.  He made a variety of remarks vilifying lacrosse players—statements rejected by the university’s Coleman report— and he was a key participant in the “group of 88” faculty members who incited much of the campus enmity against the innocent students. 

For the sake of clarity, I am the anthropologist who wrote Diversity:  The Invention of a Concept (2003); he is the historian who co-authored the textbook, Created Equal (2003). 

Another Peter Wood who makes his living in education teaches English at White Plains High School.  He was a Middleweight Golden Gloves finalist in 1971 and has written some terrific books about his experiences as a boxer.  The first, Confessions of A Fighter, recounts his rise in the Golden Gloves competition against the background of his extremely unhappy home life, under the domination of his stepfather.  Were it not for the coincidence of our names, I would never have found my way to this memoire, but I am grateful that I did:

Training had sucked from me every breath, every thought, and every inch of energy, and now I felt limp.

I sat with my eyes shut and just wished to be taken as a stream does a trout, smooth and easy the rest of the way.

The book is a vivid portrayal of the anger and self-loathing of a young man attempting to punch his way out of emotional paralysis.  

We seem to be the same age, but somehow no one ever mixes us up.  I’d be flattered if someone did. 

Wikipedia has a feature called “disambiguation” for people with the same name.  From it, I learned of a bunch of people named Peter Wood who I’d never heard of:  Peter Atte Wode, a fourteenth century English justice in Surrey, who helped keep the peace after the Black Death had reaped the population of the countryside.  Peter Wood (1867-1923) was a right-handed pitcher in major league baseball for two seasons in the 1880s.  He played for the Philadelphia Quaker in 1889.  Another namesake was Peter Wood (1950-1993) an English musician who co-wrote with Al Stewart the 1976 hit Year of the Cat.  These folks having passed from the scene are in no danger of being embarrassed by anything I do. 

Several living people named Peter Wood, however, may occasionally have to explain that they did not commit this or that politically incorrect outrage.  Peter S. Wood, metal sculptor of Middleburg,Virginia has an interesting website at rustymetal.com.  His ribbon-like sculptures strike me as wiggly and whimsical and he comes across as a very nice man. 

Another artist named Peter Wood—one who paints landscape, and works in ceramics and glass as well—lives in East Yorkshire in England.  He seems multi-talented not only in the arts but in all sorts of other things:  Advanced Clay Shooting Instructor, Archery Leader, Ski Leader, Canoeist, and Sailor. 

A computer security expert named Peter Wood is Chief of Operations at First Base Technologies in the U.K.  He gives his occupation as “ethical hacker.”  He is a frequent blogger who seems genial company, though I’ve never thought of a good reason to introduce myself.   Coincidence of names is a pretty hollow connection, though it somehow seems psychologically suggestive.  Would my life have been different if my name were something else? 

There is a Peter Wood who reviews “colon cleansing products.”  I am not sure whether he is a real person or a marketing creation, but he is a proliferating web presence, of the sort one might like to flush.   Whatever you do, don’t confuse me with him.  I don’t evaluate colon cleansing products. 

Many more people named Peter Wood are staking their claims:  a trumpet player/professora portfolio manager at Chase, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, an orthopedic surgeona flooring installer, a digital artist, and even a magician.  Perhaps I will come across still more. 

There is no rational reason to go about collecting people who happen to share your name, but it does seem to have its own bit of magic.  People who may have nothing else in common besides a name are perhaps “secret sharers” in Joseph Conrad’s sense.  There is an irrational compulsion to think it must mean something:  a bond, as we anthropologists say, of “fictive kinship.”   I have a sense of general amity with all those other people named Peter Wood, even the miscreant at Duke and that dubious colon cleansing guy.

This sort of article can only end with an invitation to go and do likewise if you haven’t already.  Google has surely alerted you to your own namesakes.  Have you ever indulged the temptation to get in touch?  Have you found a perfect opposite of yourself with the same name? 

 

 

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