Names. We’re all given one when we are born, tags that are stuck on us before we have developed any of our own characteristics or personality. Most of us were given at least two at birth, maybe even more. One of them identifies who we belong too, which clan or family group we are associated with, and the other is what’s known as our given name, or names as the case may be.
Sometimes we’re named for a forbearer, sometimes for a family friend, and other times just a random name chosen by your parents from a book. However the name is chosen, it’s the one we end up hearing almost everyday of our lives. If you are a Christian, one of the first ceremonies you will undergo is initiation into the church via baptism where your soul and name are tied together and introduced to God.
I’ve always found it a little odd that so much importance is given to an appellation that was chosen for you by people who hadn’t met you yet. Some people at least wait until after the baby is born to name it, but you can’t wait too long because you’ve got to have a name ready to give to the church as soon as the mother and child are able to get out of bed.
Even if the baby isn’t to be baptized, there is pressure on the parents to name the child right away. I’ve never understood why. The kid isn’t going to be responding to it for a couple of years anyway. At most they will give it the same amount of attention a dog will give when you call its name, a conditioned recognition and nothing more.
In other words, a name is nothing more than a convenience in the first years of a child’s life, a way for the parents to have a means of addressing them in a manner more personal than pronouns and differentiating their brood from someone else’s in crowded situations like playgrounds.
Aside from teachers calling roll in class, the only other service that a name provides is ammunition for being teased mercilessly if your name is at all odd, or if you have become a target for bullying.
Supposedly we live in a world where we are free to make choices about who and what we are. Any child can grow up to be anything, but not with a name of their own choosing. If we really wanted a name to have something to do with the person who is being named, we would wait for them to reach a certain age and allow them to have a hand in naming themselves.
Family members use names as a means of laying claim to an individual. Parents stake out their claim to their children by giving them a name that will have expectations attached to it. Either the weight of living up to an ancestor’s accomplishments, or matching the deeds of renown attached to a name, are loaded on your shoulders almost before you can walk.
What would be so bad in having children and young adults choosing their own names? Oh I’m sure there would be some kids who would change their name every hour on the hour for the first little while, but the novelty would eventually wear thin. By the time they would reach an age where having a name would begin to matter, they would have learned to settle on one name for a while. Even the flightiest person in the world will eventually have to find a roost and will realize the necessity of settling on one name for an extended stretch of time.
There are plenty of cultures through out the world where people search out their own names as part of their ritual for entering adulthood. Whether it’s the vision quest of Native Americans or some other ritual, the “finding” of your name is a means of establishing your connection to creation and taking your rightful place in society.
A few years ago I changed some of the names I was given at birth because they did not feel appropriate to the person who I had become or wanted to be. For me, what was most important was ridding myself of the last name that I had been saddled with by my father.
My wife and I had just decided we were going to get married and I did not want to carry the name of my abuser over into this new life. I had never felt like part of that family to begin with and always associated more with my mother’s family, so I switched to my mother’s family name of Marcus.
Everybody I knew understood completely. My mother of course thought it was great as she had done the same thing almost 30 years ago when my parents had separated. My brother couldn’t have cared less; he’s always had his own unique names for me whose creativity was only matched by their disgustingness.
Changing name just doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me, so I find it appalling that six years after my wife changed her first name, some of her family are unwilling to call her by her legal name of choice. In Canada, when you change your name it is changed on everything from your birth certificate on up. Your old identity ceases to exist.
Like me, my wife had been through some hard times as a younger person, including watching the woman she was named after slitting her wrists in front of her when she was a child. She no longer wanted to carry that name with her any more. Long ago she had dreamt a name that was more appropriate and fitting for her, but she had never felt right with making the change until six years ago.
I find it incomprehensible why people think they have any say in the matter of what a person should want to call him or herself. Maybe, if they are the parent who chose the name to honour an ancestor, they have some right to ask why. But the first thing they need to realize is that when a person chooses a new name it has nothing to do with anybody but themselves and what is right for them.
Does that sound selfish? How is it more selfish than imposing a name on someone who doesn’t want it because it means something to you? Quite frankly I don’t see the difference. In fact I think it’s less selfish for a person to choose their own name than to force someone to live with a name they don’t like because it makes someone else happy.
Every name has meaning; a name should express something of the person’s nature and character. Does it make sense that the name someone is given when they are born is going to be able to predict the person they will become? What someone is known as when they are five or eleven has as much chance of being appropriate when they are twenty-one as a fortune cookie prediction.
It’s not a crime to want to change your name. You have to wonder at people who are so attached to a person’s old name that they can’t let it go without a fight. If they genuinely loved that person, wouldn’t they wish them well in their continued growth as an individual instead of being so concerned with what they are leaving behind?
For some of us, the past is a place we no longer wish to have anything to do with, and the names that we carried through those days are an anchor that drags us down into its depths. Cutting that chain is akin to being set free to discover a new world that belongs to us, and us alone.
If you can only criticize, then be prepared to be left behind; there will be no room on board for you.