Monday, April 29, 2013

What's in a name?

I'm following up this post which discusses 2 articles about married name changes and how we tear each other down about choices.

I noticed that in both articles the authors equate their identity with their name. That if they were to change their name, they would cease to be who they were and become someone different, and that this would be a bad thing. And it's perfectly fine if you feel that way. But not everyone does, and it is NOT ok to project your feelings regarding identity onto other people.

I was talking to a coworker recently about my name change, and he jokingly suggested I take the opportunity to change my first name while I'm at it. I scoffed, saying that I was too old to learn to answer to a new name. To which he replied "Ok, SPARTAN."

And he's right. After 20+ years of responding to Stephanie, I started simming as a flight controller, and learned to answer to SPARTAN. In fact, I might answer faster to SPARTAN now than I do to my actual name. A flight director barking your name or a space station failure have that impact.

I thought then about what that name "change" meant to me. How happy I was to pass my operator final, how proud to earn the right to sit in the front room and answer to SPARTAN. It's no coincidence that my name changes have come with new chapters... substituting SPARTAN when I became a flight controller; taking my husband's last name when I got married. I am not the same me I was in before these major events. Of course I haven't changed completely... but neither have I stayed completely the same. One day, hopefully, a couple small people will call me Mom. Does that name not have power? Does it not mark a radical shift in one's identity?

Jill Filipovic says "Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real."
I couldn't agree more with this statement. But from this, I draw the opposite conclusion. There is power in changing your name, to mark a profound change in your self. You could argue that being called "Mom" is not the same as changing your last name (and I agree), but in the context of giving order to the world around us, they serve the same purpose.

As I have said before, I support everyone's right to do what they want here. I'm not trying to convince anyone that the only way to represent a marriage is to take your husband's last name.  A Practical Wedding says it best:
Because really, names are just the containers in which we hold our identities—sometimes we find freedom in those containers changing shape, sometimes we take pride in them remaining steadfastly the same. But our names belong to us alone. My name is my name. I am the only one who has to live in it. I am the only one who gets to decide what it looks like, and what it means. You don’t get a say.
It's a little long for a t-shirt, though...

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