About My (User)name
I was born Michael Austin Polk on December 28th in a year that you don’t need to know because it’s the Internet. Just Google it if you have to know.
Let’s deconstruct the proper name first.
I’ve gone by Mike my entire life, mostly as a means of separation. My dad’s name is also Michael Polk. That said, I’m not Michael Polk Jr. It’s confusing, I know. But it’s important for reasons you’ll read below.
The only other anecdote I have about this is that I used Michael so sparingly for the first 17 years of my life that I sometimes spelled it “Micheal” on important documents. Don’t believe me? Ask Huntington Bank who held a joint checking account with their mom for most of the mid-2000s.
This was supposed to be my first name, actually. I was very young, but I remember my mom (whose name is Darlene, which I’m saying because I told you my dad’s name and if I don’t mention hers too, it’ll probably cause another fight. Separated-not-divorced, am I right?) being super jacked about it. I was floating around in there and she would just fist pump she was so jacked.
Key word though: supposed.
Austin got the bitch seat that is my name’s 1993 Cutlass for one reason: a compromise by Michael Edward Polk, my father, who I am not the junior of, thought it was — and I quote — “too faggy.” I know I shouldn’t write that word on the Internet, but you know what, my parents shouldn’t have told that story to me as a 6-year old either, so we’re all losers here.
Anyways, that homophobic naming justification is the reason I’m not a junior. What’s next?
Polk (I don’t care how you pronounce it, just make sure you use the ‘L’ and don’t say ‘Poke’)
In fourth grade, Mrs. I Think Her Name Was Martincheck came into our class with the most important question I had ever been asked up to this point in my life:
Mike, are you related to President Polk?
I had never even considered it. Mostly because I didn’t know there was a President Polk (I was in fourth grade, give me a break, I eventually got a history degree I’m not using, so there), but also because I never felt anything presidential about me. As an example, that very same year, I decided tying my shoelaces — a skill I wholeheartedly possessed — was no longer for me and I made my parents buy me velcro shoes. Does that sound even remotely presidential to you? No. No it does not. At best, it sounds vice presidential. Like Spiro Agnew.
But, in that seminal moment, I thought “This is my shot.”
So, I lied.
Yeah, Mrs. Probably M, he’s, like, my great-great-great Uncle.
Oh how delicious dishonesty tasted coming out of my perjurious mouth.
For those of you not in the know, President Polk is James Knox Polk, our 11th president, often referred to as the “dark horse” candidate, and from the Volunteer State, Tennessee. A state, might I add, that I’m not from. Or any of my family for that matter. But before any of that could run through my then nine year old brain, Mrs. Martincheck Cause I Looked Up My Elementary School’s Roster And She’s Still Teaching There Good For Her said this:
You know, I think you have his nose.
This is where the sweet lie turned sour.
You may be asking yourself “Micheal, doesn’t this solidify the ruse. You’re in the clear! You’ll be treated like royalty henceforth! They’ll be bowing down at your velcro-d feet!”
All that is very true. There may still be, to this day, former classmates of mine perpetuating the myth, bragging to Tinder dates all over the Midwest:
You know, I went to elementary school with the descendent of the president who brought Texas into the Union.
And that feels great. Nowadays, I don’t do well with lying. Even a white lie I quickly confess to. The best I’ve done since that day is “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” and showing up 10 minutes after that initial 5. But for one of my first and grandest lies to be bringing those two lovebirds together for one night of passion founded on cell phones and predicated by their appreciation for our nation’s glorious past? It’s, just, nice.
Why so glum though?
Let me ask you: Have you seen former Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee James K. Polk’s nose? Google it. It is gigantic. Much larger than the $100 million price Polk offered to Spain for the ultimately-failed purchase of Cuba in 1848. That equates to approximately $2.74 billion today! Think of that in terms of a nose, but even bigger!
For the family I actually come from, this is just about the only similar quality. Mom, aunt, grandpa, countless others. Big ol’ snozzies. I bet my real great-great-great uncle had trouble kissing my real great-great-great aunt without poking her in the eye.
The irony of the situation is those are all people on the side that doesn’t share the Polk name.
And, really, mine’s not even that bad. It’s probably above-average. Sure, when I get too mean with the jokes about my girlfriend’s tiny ears and she hurls back Nigel Thornberry impersonations, I know it comes with a significant air of hyperbole. But it hurts all the same, and that all started with the lie I told in fourth grade about my last name.
Which brings me to the username.
MikePolk (The Capital-U Username)
There’s a couple reasons for this.
For one, Michael’s a fairly popular name, which means there’s a lot of Mike’s out there trying to distance themselves from their dads too. From 1954 until 1998, it was the most popular name every year minus a one year break in 1960 when David took over.
Heck, we were even in the top 3 until 2010 (fuck you, Jacobs, Ethans, Masons, Williams, Jaydens, Noahs, not particularly in that order, of the world).
So, couple that with 765,929 historical documents including the surname “Polk” found on ancestry.com and, yeah, it’s going to be pretty hard to lock down that coveted FirstnameLastname username across all your social media channels. Five-year old Jacob Noah Ethanson, who just created a Snapchat account, feels my pain.
The second reason, I’m ashamed to admit, is far more petty.
In 2009, Mike Polk’s Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism video hit the web and with it, endless congratulations.
Mike, you’ve gone viral!
My quasi-racist aunt shared your video on Facebook!
I saw you on Tosh.0 last night!
There was just one problem: this was a different Mike Polk. To add insult to injury, this was a Mike Polk Jr. also from Cleveland, Ohio. It must be nice to have so much love from your father that he’d bestow all three of his names upon you.
Now, I’m sure Mike Polk Jr. is just fine. Mike Polk Jr. is legitimately funny. I laughed out loud when Mike Polk Jr. said “I’ll see ya Sunday” in Mike Polk Jr.’s Factory of Sadness video.
But when I applied my film to the Cleveland International Film Festival, the first response I got was “Is this Mike Polk Jr. from those funny tourism videos?”
My mom’s boyfriend of more than half a decade texted me today (I’m not joking) to ask if I was going to be on TV. No Brad, I’m not and tell my mom I said I’m sorry for disappointing her.
One time someone called my cell phone saying “Wow! Congrats on the book! You’re Cleveland’s greatest comedian!” and I repeated my rehearsed denial, then tweeted about it, and it probably wasn’t Mike Polk Jr., but it may have been Mike Polk Jr. the whole time, which is kind of strange and it didn’t land, but I still respect the attempt. Batters gotta swing, ya know?
But, Jr. or no Jr., there can only be one Mike Polk.
So, in the last 7 or so years of my life on the Internet, I have fought him in the only way I know how: running away behind either the full name given to me or the number assigned to my college email address.
And honestly, that’s always felt kind of off to me.
Just like my lineage-based lie, I was not being truly who I am. Sure, in the eyes of the state, I may be Michael Austin Polk. But I’ve always been more of a Mike Polk. In fifth grade alone, my class had five Michaels. So, we all became some version of that. I was Mike Polk.
But on the Internet, that’s never been the case.
Then today happened. April 9th, 2016, a day that will live in mostly boredom, I signed up for an account on the popular website medium.com.
Part of the process includes creating a username. I’ve been on this site before, and honestly I never once noticed a username. Anyone I ever read just had their name. And not even their FirstnameLastname. It was their Firstname Lastname.
So, I typed: Mike Polk
I don’t know what it was. Maybe the three beers from last night that had me feeling way too hungover when I never once felt drunk. Maybe the second helping of hash at brunch this morning, not because I had two, but because the first had a hair in it and even though the second came back suspiciously quick, I ate it anyway. Maybe it was the large coffee and I never go for a large coffee.
Whatever it was, I was feeling dangerous.
I typed: MikePolk.
For a split second, the familiar red text of “username is not available” flashed before my eyes. I expected as much.
But then, just as quickly, the most glorious shade of green I have ever seen.
I gasped. What are all the MikePolks of the Internet doing with their time if not crafting articulately witty and insightful Medium posts?
Twitter Mike Polk, what are you doing with all the free time owning a suspended account affords you?
Instagram Mike Polk, what is wrong? Is Medium not good enough for your musings on art, printmaking, and the harsh realities of professional hackysack?
Tumblr Mike Polk, what exactly is the perfect time to experience breast augmentation?! The world has to know and one social media channel is not enough to spread the gospel of new boobs for a new you!
I was disappointed in my brothers, but like that 4th grade version of myself so many years ago, I was once again presented with my shot. Only this time, I was not going to throw it away to the temptations of deceit.
I was — I am — going to be myself.
My name is MikePolk. And I am here to write on the Internet.