Ever want to choose a new name? Become someone else? Or just a different version of yourself?
If you use a new name, does it mean you’ve transformed inside, too? Well, that’s probably an individual response. And it depends on the motivation for changing your own first or last name, or answering (or not) to a different name that someone else gives you .
We can separate professional identities from personal ones, by toggling between names. Sometimes people use stage names. A friend of mine is exploring the use of a pen name.
Then again, sometimes people change their names due to changes in relationship status. Marriage. Adoption.
Others select new names as a rite of passage. Or to symbolize a new phase of life. Rebirth inside a new philosophy or religion. Identification with a new community.
Chris and I had one colleague who switched from his first name to his middle name when he relocated to a different city. He wanted to start over. (I had college friends who did the same thing.) When his mother called the office looking for him, she used his first name. We didn’t know whom she meant, because we knew him by his middle name. Then I remembered seeing the other name on his resume, and realized she meant our work buddy. Phew, I figured it out in time to put him on the phone with his mom calling from Texas.
Then there are folks who have taken to using a nickname, or a shortened variant, or initials instead of their given name. Our brother-in-law’s nickname is “Hoppy,” for instance. You’ll have to ask him for the back story, if you ever have the good fortune to meet him.
In fact, members of our extended family have changed both adult and childrens’ last names, and the spellings of their first names. They have created their own family tradition and reinforced a form of intimacy. They have essentially started anew and become their own enclave, in a way, by dropping affiliation — by surname –with anyone else in the world.
I have friends with different names assigned for use in different languages and cultures. They have Americanized, English-sounding names. They have Chinese or Japanese names, for instance. Inside their families, they might answer to one name. In the business world, they might use a different one. Their names straddle different aspects of their complex heritage.
If you are a parent who had the opportunity to choose your child’s name, do you recall the intense responsibility of choosing a name that your daughter or son would bear for the length of a lifetime? It was intimidating to me.
Oh, we pored over baby name books. Made lists at work and home, because friends and coworkers were anxious to make suggestions. I let people write down all of their good and bad ideas on a list taped to my desk. SAt home, we put our favorites on the refrigerator, where we’d see them every day. If we got so tired of looking at one that we didn’t want to see it on the list for one more day, we crossed it off, because we had to like the names enough to want to say and hear them every day, too. That’s how we narrowed down our choices.
Sarah was eventually named for her maternal great-grandparents, and she, in turn, named her little sister Jessica. The girls chose lots of middle names for our dog, but the dog’s name always settled back to plain old Lacey.
I also have a family friend who legally applied to the courts to change her name when she was a teenager. Her family had to agree to it. They were progressive, and let her have her own way and change her given name. She belonged to a faith tradition in a country where many names have a translatable “meaning” to them …for example, your given name might mean “Blessed Daughter” or something along those lines. Well, her chosen name was invented. It didn’t have a specific meaning, just a catchy, melodic sound to its combination of consonants and vowels. As an adult, when she went to the temple in America, some folks asked what her name meant in translation? She replied, “Nothing. I just liked the way it sounded, that’s why I chose it.”
Her reason was almost my favorite reason for changing a name. To invent something completely new, just because you love the way it sounds.
As a writer, I love the idea of playing with your name. Abbreviating it. Elongating it. Altering it completely.
Sometimes people put their names on, like clothing, as an outward sign of who they are in a certain professional role. Or while on a spiritual journey.
Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll change my first name. In the past, I’ve had nicknames. Pet names. But so far, I’ve always returned to my given name. It’s not too common. It’s short. It means what it says. I have affection for it. For most steps along my own journey, I’ve been … well, just me. Gail. For now, that’s plenty.
But that’s me. Like I said, I love when people play with their names. If you choose a different one, I’ll be happy to use it … but don’t be surprised if I slip, and use the old, familiar one, too.