What’s In A Name?

Names are attached to our identity. They are given or adopted, changed or shortened depending on tradition and convenience. In a world full of Rodríguezes, Johnsons and Nguyens, we all want to stand out and be recognized by our name. No wonder so many celebrities and authors use pseudonyms! Having a memorable name can make or break a career; it can make your life a living hell too.

In the matriarchal societies of Latin America for exanple, the importance of names extends to surnames. Where my family of origin is from both last names are kept. The paternal last name precedes the maternal one but it is retained and used by the Social Security office and National Birth Registries. Other countries and nations do the same because it helps differentiate people by tracing lineage and cultural heritage. Tesxhers in my school were very happy they had two opportunities to separate us and not get us mixed. Too many students had the same first, middle and first last name so this provided them with a manner to give us a meaningful identifier.

In Europe, hyphenated last names are commom to include both parent’s last name. Changing one’s last name after marriage is not a rule but a suggestion and varies by country. Hyphenation is a very common way in feminist or progressive countries to bypass tradition but is seems like a compromise to me. You are still stating you passed from being owned by your father to being owned by your husband but that is my opinion. Slaves used to take on their masters’ last names and a few broke with the practice and used Freeman or Freman when buying or earning their freedom. This says a lot about preferences and illustrates how we all come up with different solutions for the same problem. Since I come from a place when you don’t legally adopt your husband’s last name I don’t feel any pressure to justify this social construct or lobby to have it demolished. The cool part is that I have met many people who have created a new last name to represent their new family or partnership arrangements like the Jolie-Pitts. Brilliant!

Changing your name is not a very difficult task. By law, you are allowed to do so and all you have to do is file paperwork with your local government. Voilá, new day, new legal you! Depending on the state, it can be anything from $50 USD to $150 USD. If you can swing it you can call yourself whatever you want, with a few exceptions. This is why Prince chose a symbol for a while to identify himself. All is fair when defining how you want to be known or seen; you can change your hair, your features and your moniker! (Changing your gender qualifier legally is another story.) Easy peasy!

Both my last names are very common, and so is my middle name, so my mom made sure that my first name was memorable. She did the same thing when naming my sister, a task I took very seriously as the oldest. (Although her first name is not her favorite, we nailed the middle name so well it spawned a slew of nicknames that she is not only proud of but amuse her.) My husband suffered a different fate and was given an 11 letter long name because he was the third namesake. People always wonder if we will pass the very unique name on to a son and we are more than happy to do so. A unique name gives you character, presence and in some cases a purpose. A girl named Esperanza or Hope will be predispositioned to be a little bit more, well, hopeful. Ask any kid called Damian how people react to them. (Thanks The Omen…) Some names are so classic and timeless you expect the child to behave like a grandma. Mavis anyone?

When writers create a character they make sure you will remember their name. Their entire story wouldn’t make sense if they were named differently. No one should take a naming ceremony or opportunity lightly. Whomever named my dog Zach made a decision that will affect his life forever. Surely we could change his name but why would we want to?  Even if we decided to name him Drogon, after our favorite Game of Thrones dragon, it wouldn’t feel right. Unless he asked me to call him something else, Zach he will remain. His name and nicknames are part of his history, of how his people see him, just as yours shaped your identity. However, I do understand that in some cases a names needs to be shed and replaced by a new one. Be it due to religion, creed or preference, I always respect the way a person wants to be addressed especially if their beliefs and life experiences warranted a fresh start. Names are very powerful and special to their owners and in my opinion should not be disrespected, much less ridiculed or questioned.

I know a lot of debate about changing a name centers around honoring your parents or your tradition. I get that in Christian sects believers may judge you because you are not honoring your parents. However, if God wants you to be happy, he will not care about your name but rather about your soul and your faith. I don’t think souls are weighed down by names but that’s just me. Death and tax auditors will find you regardless of what you call yourself. If your name doesn’t serve you or causes you pain, shed it. There is no need to continue to associate yourself with a part of your identity that is dragging you down, original last names included. I won’t judge you if you change the definition of your being and neither should society.

Not allowing people to evolve and choose their alias would be a disservice to humanity. We should all embrace the rebirth process that accompanies adopting a new name and what it symbolizes to the person going through the transformation. I happen to be proud of my name and of what it represents: love. It shaped the way I approached life and its trials. Not everyone is grateful that their parents made sure they gave them an edge when it came to registering them into the many sistems and tools society uses to give us a number. I pity those who never lived up to their names because they let them drag them down. No one is too small for their name or unworthy. No one is immune to earning a nickname or using [insert name here] for short. It is up to us to decide which words will hurt us and which ones will empower us. Go out there and redefine who you want to become. If it so happens that you wouldn’t change a thing I commend you. Make sure you support those who do. There is no need to resist or argue with a decision that someone made to improve their quality of life. To each their own.

You do you boo. Do you. 😉

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