If you log into Facebook and search for the name “Hussein,” you might be in for a surprise. For instance, the very first person to pop up in my results is a former co-worker — Dan Hussein O’Maley.
If I didn’t know him by that full name when we worked together, it’s because the Hussein is a fairly recent change.
Dan is part of a spirited group of Obama supporters who are changing their names to show solidarity with their candidate in response to conservative attacks. The New York Times covers the phenomenon this weekend:
The movement is hardly a mass one, and it has taken place mostly online, the digital equivalent of wearing a button with a clever, attention-getting message. A search revealed hundreds of participants across the country, along with a YouTube video and bumper stickers promoting the idea. Legally changing names is too much hassle, participants say, so they use “Hussein” on Facebook and in blog posts and comments on sites like nytimes.com, dailykos.com and mybarackobama.com, the campaign’s networking site.
New Husseins began to crop up online as far back as last fall. But more joined up in February after a conservative radio host, Bill Cunningham, used Mr. Obama’s middle name three times and disparaged him while introducing Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, at a campaign rally. (Mr. McCain repudiated Mr. Cunningham’s comments).
The Internet makes a movement like this possible. These Obama supporters aren’t legally changing their name (for the most part) because that requires far too much bureaucratic hassle. But with email, instant messenger, Facebook, and blogs, they don’t need to go through those hurdles to make a striking impact. And of course, online, these folks have the ability to find each other.
But the Internet itself doesn’t inspire a movement like this. Instead, it speaks to something very unique about Obama’s candidacy. It’s one thing to build an army of volunteers and raise money from millions of people. It’s another altogether to motivate hundreds of individuals to take the step of adopting Obama’s middle name.
It’s not as though the President of the United States has convinced his supporters to adopt the middle initial “W.”