Names. Identity. Self. Choice.
They are all related, inter-connected, fused one might say. Your name is you on paper, legally, it’s used in scolding, in affection, in warning. It’s how we track families and generations. Names are important.
I was reminded of this when I read this post on Identity over at Post Graduate Pie I was reminded just how much I struggled with this during engagement. Kamel could not have cared any less one way or another, he was just happy to have me, whatever I wanted to call myself, or him for that matter. But I cared, a LOT. Natalie took the words and the feelings right out of my body when she says:
This week I started work. As Natalie HisLast. You don’t use middle names in everyday life. The comfort is gone. I sign my new name and I think, Who is that? I have to introduce myself to people and I hope that they speak first and say only their first name so I can only say mine. Sometimes I slip up and say MyLast. I always hesitate after I say “Natalie.” I feel like an imposter. Like I just made up my name, plucked it out of the clear blue sky. The first real day I had to use the new name, I was choking back tears, and I felt like going to lie down and wishing I could just live with the name a few weeks more before being forced to go around introducing myself with it all day long.
That was exactly my fears when thinking about identifying myself as purely Lauren Hislastname. Who is that? That’s not me. So, I figured out what would be alright with me, what wouldn’t make me feel like a stranger to my self, but would also signify a coming together as family. We have not yet changed our name legally – we’re waiting for Kamel’s citizenship paperwork to go through so we don’t confuse the system – but we’ve changed it socially (Facebook makes that official, right?). I feel like this is my training wheels time. I can roll it around in my mouth, introduce myself as such when I feel like it, but I don’t have to sign my checks with my new name … yet. I’m getting there.
On the same day that I read Identity Crisis, Kamel had also just told me how the men at work were baffled that he had also changed his name (we both hyphenated). They would tell him things like, “Oh no, I could never give up my name. Ever.” And Kamel would tell them that he didn’t, that it’s still there. They would say things like, “REALLY? WHY?!” And he would respond with, “Because… that’s our name.”
Very little flusters Kamel so when he was telling me about this he was calm, he was talking in the same vein as “weird, huh?” But I was starting to fume! How dare these men freak out about changing their names when it’s just ASSUMED that we’ll alter our names, identity, self. And Kamel wasn’t asking them for their permission or their opinion, yet they just up and offered it. Wasting no time in letting Kamel know that they disapproved of a very personal, yet very public choice. And these were young men, men in their late 20s, early 30s. Men who were married and not, working in an unconventional (read: video games) field.
It reminded me how the assumed place for women also creates an assumed place for men. They are the head of household (what happened to partnership?), they are the givers of namesakes (though children come out of my body), they provide for the family (though in this economy, really?), and apparently they are as pushy and judgemental as the media makes women out to be.
I give Kamel a lot of credit for not being flustered. I can do the flustering for both of us. No matter what name situation you choose, you should be able to own it without feeling like you have to make justifications for your choices, or feeling like if you had done it any other way you would have never heard the end of it. These are personal choices about self and identity, they are not about the greater society at large, so shut up.