What’s in a name?

A lot, when it comes to Elon Musk, Grimes, and their son, X AE A-12 Musk.

Ally Rzesa/ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images, Adobe

Challenging times call for curious obsessions. Perhaps that explains my unhealthy fixation on experimental songwriter/pop star/producer Claire Elise Boucher and her boyfriend/companion/paramour, the space guru/extreme boring maven/electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk.

About a year ago, I read a fascinating interview with Boucher that began: “Claire Elise Boucher hates all her names.” At the time, Boucher was a famous recording artist who went by the name of Grimes.

How did Boucher become Grimes? “Grimes was an accurate reflection of who she was circa 2009,” Wall Street Journal reporter Ryan Bradley explained: “Edgy and alt (her words), a person who gave herself tattoos all over her hands, a person who hated pop music.”


The occasion for the interview was the release of her eponymous album, “Miss Anthropocene.” The Miss Anthropocene persona, she explained, “is like this death god.” But a fun death god. Anthropocene wants “to make climate change fun. People don’t care about it, because we’re being guilted. I see the polar bear and want to kill myself. No one wants to look at it, you know?”

When the article appeared in March 2019, Grimes/Anthropocene had rechristened herself “c.” She promised a “public execution” of Grimes, adding that her birth name “Claire is done and dead.” c, the scientific symbol for the speed of light in a vacuum, “is an intermediate name,” she said.

What’s-her-name is hardly the first recording artist to indulge in creative shape-shifting, e.g., Sean John Coombs, a.k.a Puff Daddy, P. Diddy et seq. The reigning champion of reappellation may be the late Wu-Tang Clan co-founder Russell Tyrone Jones, who claimed 28 pseudonyms, among them Prince Delight and RK Tha Mad Specialist.

Grimes/c/Boucher/Anthropocene devoted a fair amount of her Journal interview to her relationship with Musk, whom she pointedly declined to name. If Sigmund Freud was correct in observing that “a human being’s name is a principal component in his person, perhaps a piece of his soul,” then [ibid] and Musk are doing enough soul-wrestling for the lot of us.


Fast forward to now.

Earlier this month, our heroine gave birth to what appears to be a healthy boy, and this is good news. But nothing is simple in Grimey Musklandia. The proud parents named the boy X AE A-12 Musk (the ligature AE, the Latin dipthong for those following at home). Just when you thought “Jack” might do.

Around the time he became a father, Musk — no stranger to headlinesannounced that he was selling almost all his worldly possessions, adding “my gf is mad at me.” Then followed a vigorous Twitter/Instagram exchange by the new parents (do couples talk anymore? Is this “social distancing”?) about the meaning and correct pronunciation of the boy’s name.

The polynomial mother explained that the X in the boy’s name was the unknown math variable, while the ligated AE was “my elven spelling of Ai (love &/or Artificial intelligence).” The A-12 referred to the Lockheed A-12 high-altitude spy plane, code-named Archangel (her "favorite song”). She called the A-12 a precursor to the SR-17 spy plane, one of the couple’s favorite aircraft. Musk subsequently mansplained that she meant to say SR-71, not SR-17.

Further confusion cloaks the correct pronunciation of the boy’s name. The mother has said it sounds like it is spelled. In a podcast interview with Joe Rogan, Musk explained that the AE should be pronounced “ash.”


Musk’s mother, Maye, who represents an island of sanity in this Sargasso of silliness, publicly welcomed her “adorable” grandson into the world on Mother’s Day, and Twitter-christened him “X.”

The teacher won’t call on him first, but it’s a start.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.