What’s in a name when it comes to stone-cold killers?

New Zealand became the latest country to experience an act of terrorism when an Australian man walked into two different mosques in Christchurch and killed almost 50 people. That incident, like many in the United States, prompted a call for banning the type of gun used by said terrorist.

It also prompted another interesting reaction from the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who made a plea this week to Parliament that the man responsible for the attacks would not be referred to by name. To give him a name would give him an undeserved notoriety, according to Ardern.

“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name,” Ardern said in a National Public Radio story.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that has been floated by some here in the United States. What would happen if we didn’t cement criminals’ status in history by revealing who they are? Would we still be dwelling on the crimes years later and uttering the names of the despots who committed them?

Would we still be recounting the acts of Jesse James, Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh if we never knew who they were? Would we have dealt with more school shootings if we hadn’t known that the shooters for the massacre in Columbine, Colorado, were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and not two anonymous students?

Would we have had the racial unrest that we had in the 1990s if we hadn’t known that O.J. Simpson was the one charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman? It would be easy to assume that we would not have seen the divide between whites and blacks if we’d been blissfully unaware that a famed football player was the one eventually acquitted by a jury of the crime.

However, it would have been impossible for government officials to keep a lid on O.J.’s name because it was attached to someone who had already found notoriety and fame. If the perpetrator in New Zealand was a golf pro or a big movie star, Ardern’s goal of making him the next Voldemort — he who shall not be named — would be next to impossible.

It’s a noble goal, but it’s not a reality as a matter of national or world policy. That’s because we, as human beings, want to know all the details. We want to know why someone decided to kill, whether it was planned or in the heat of anger and whether the killer always had a predilection to snuff out life or if something just caused a ball bearing in the killer’s head to go out of whack.

It’s also the curious part of us that tends to lead us to research about people or events. While those who commit crimes are not the brightest crayons in the box, those who hold these people up as idols will find out all they can. You can certainly try to curb the flow of information, but citizens being in the dark is part of the reason Americans revolted against the British empire more than 240 years ago.

As an American journalist, I find this idea of not naming the criminals when bad things happen to be akin to pretending like those things never occurred. We’re not supposed to wait for government to decide when the people should know; we’re supposed to paint the picture and let people decide for themselves whether they want to know.

As I was writing this column, I had to actually look up a couple of names of the dark souls who carried out unimaginable crimes. It’s not that I had completely forgotten what had happened during Columbine in 1999 or the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. It’s just that there are a lot of other events going on in life, and I don’t choose to have history’s dark pages on my front burner.

I think most other folks feel the same way. If you’re good of heart, you’re not going to remember the names of who committed atrocities years or decades ago. If you’re a rotten soul, you’re going to move forward with your plans unless someone stops you. If New Zealand is comfortable with having horrible details swept under the rug, that’s New Zealand. I prefer to know everything about the face of darkness when it makes an appearance.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.