“In some cases, the name given at birth is only the first of several names a person will bear throughout life. When this happens, the new names are given either to mark important milestones in life or to ward off evil spirits by tricking them into thinking that the person with the old name has disappeared. Regardless of when, why, or how often it happens, though, the giving and receiving of a name is an event of major importance.” H. Edward Deluzain, Behind the Name
As I have gone through my first year of recovery I have been forced to question my identity. Who am I now that many of the things that defined me have been left behind? And why, throughout my life, have I been given so many names?
My name is Andrew William Ahmad-Cooke, but I was christened plain Andrew William Cooke. I was called Andrew because my mother liked the name and William after my paternal grandfather, Bill Cook. My family have always called me Andrew. At school, for obvious reasons, I was called Cookie by fellow pupils and teachers alike. ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles’ and other cookery based nicknames followed me through my school years. I hated being called Cookie.
When I was about 19 and playing keyboards and synthesizers in local bands, a friend came up with the nickname ‘Android’, which soon got shortened to Droid. To be honest, I liked this new nomenclature. I felt it had grainy Fritz Lang feel which went with my role in the band: all knobs, buttons and electronica. On the whole, Droid was a comparatively clean living lad. I smoked cannabis, occasionally I would take a tab of acid, some mushrooms or a line of speed, but I never drank alcohol. All my friends called me Droid until I moved to London in 1984; there, I reverted to being Andrew or Andy. However, since moving back to Cambridge in 2003, I have again been playing in a band with my oldest friend Hutty (another story), who still calls me Droid. Consequently, he introduces me as Droid and this old name is spreading to new acquaintances. I am Droid again.
In 1988 I started a new job recording and producing audio books for the blind. Another Andrew started the same week as me so we were both given alternative random names. He became ‘Des’ and I received the new name ‘Hank’. This name stuck for the five years I worked there but as I met my future wife at this job, her family still call me Hank, along with the ex-colleagues I am still in touch with. All my souvenir copies of the books I recorded and produced with celebrities are dedicated to Hank. Hank too, only really smoked cannabis. Although it was at this time I became friends with people who regularly used cocaine and ecstasy, so it was not long before I was using these every weekend.
I left this job in 1993 and became plain ‘Andy’ for a few years until 1996 when I met the beautiful people with whom I formed the band Juttajaw and started running our Dirty Cow parties. One of these new friends was my future best ‘man’, DJ Kelly Lee, who dubbed me Alan Barry. Under her influence the name caught on fast. Later when I started DJing, there was already an Andy C, so I became Alan B. Since then I have used Alan B as my musician/DJ name. As Alan, I had also begun using ecstasy and cocaine nearly every day. In fact it would have been unheard of for Alan to deny himself any drug experience. It was at this time that I began using and became addicted to heroin. When I stopped using heroin I moved back to Cambridge. It was then that I started drinking.
When my wife and I got married we decided to share our names, so I became Andrew Ahmad-Cooke. I love my new surname and I’m proud to have this tangible link to my wife’s family and their heritage. However, I do have to spell out this new name over the phone, whenever I quote it, which has given me a small insight into the immigrant’s condition: white people struggling with their funny sounding names. My wife calls me The Bear. I won’t dwell on this. My daughter’s nicknames for me are ‘Trans Fatty Acid’ and ‘Diabeety’ to remind me of my struggles with the demon sugar and my medical condition. A couple of old friends from my teenage years still call me Minty, as I always used to say I’d be round After Eight. This became ironic to me when later, as an alcoholic, I would always have a packet of mints on me in the vain attempt to hide the smell of booze on my breath.
According to Wikipedia, “a mononymous person is an individual who is known and addressed by a mononym, or single name… that name has been selected by the individual, who may have originally been given a polynym, or multiple names”. So I am polynymous. That sounds cool. My wife says it’s because I think I’m David Bowie but I didn’t give myself these names, other people did.
I do have two Facebook accounts. Andrew Ahmad-Cooke has one; his friends are his aunties, cousins, nieces and old school friends. Alan Derek Barry also has an account. All my musical, creative and counter-culture intimates are friends with Alan, as are all my new recovery friends. I have ‘outed’ myself as addict2016 a couple of times on Andrew’s page but I do most of my recovery work on Alan’s page. I accept that this may seem confusing and potentially worrying from the outside, but I like this separation. It allows me to maintain some necessary boundaries. I am not doing this to hide my past addictions. I am proud of my recovery. I have nothing to hide.
I don’t think I’ll ever know why people have given me so many different names, or why I liked it so much. Maybe it was about exploring and compartmentalising different facets of my personality or about not being truly myself. In sobriety everything is different and my multiple names have become a complication when meeting new people in the wonderful internet world of recovery. My recovery and my blog are about authenticity and honesty. All the disparate strands of my personality and my history are being drawn together. I am one person and feel that I am now truly connecting with my self. My recovery has given me a new life. My new name is addict2016…but it’s nearly 2017…do I change it?
“Nicknames are the most essential in life, more valuable than names.” Chespirito