What’s in a name?

Identity is rooted nowhere more deeply than in how we prefer to be named.

(Michael Toolan, 2006, ‘The art of English: Everyday creativity’, Palmgrave McMillan/Open University)

As some of you may be aware, I go by several different names. In fact being called by my birth name I feel says very specific things about my identity, even if those references are purely personal to me or only relevant within the sphere of my family. For many reasons I’m not comfortable being called by my birth name, and in some ways it could be said that because I’m not used to being called by such except within official circles, then it tends to sit awkwardly with me because for me it implies a sense of impartiality.

Quite often what seems to happen is that people develop their own nicknames for me. And this also may be in part due to the peculiar phenomenon that I have encountered with speakers of English, that saying ‘M..a..r..i..a’ seems for some to be very difficult, without making it more french by dropping the ‘a’, or anglosising it by throwing it completely out of the window and calling me Mary! Though this is not always the case.

Maybe it sounds too ‘phoren’ as a very good friend Soma puts it! Then again maybe it is actually a linguistic device that people use (perhaps subconsciously) that is about reinforcing the social pecking order, which really is the crux of all informal communication (I’ll write a post about it, actually it happens to be the topic of my first essay this coming month). There is of course the possibility that it is pure bone-idle laziness, like trout apparently (ay John?).

Either way, the upshot of it all is that I am known, and know myself by many names, many of which I like and that in many ways are implicit of the kind of unique relationships and friendships that I have with certain individuals. In this sense, the names you are known by are implicit of how people view you and how you view yourself. Much can be discerned from the dynamic of name-calling [mischievous grin].

Personally for me, I think it may also be indicative of my creativity in the world of analysis, but equally suggestive of the notion that I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I like change, and I like to be challenged, makes me feel happy. After all, chasing that adrenaline rush, even if just a mild one evoked by a simple smile is what makes me tick, in fact I think I could be so bold as to say that such is true of everyone… 🙂

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25 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. If you go to Google Images, turn off the parental filters, and search on any female forename, you get (not surprisingly) lots of pictures of women, in various states of dress and undress. What’s surprising is how much the levels of undress depend on which name you choose. Try it! This poses a question: are folk more likely to go for nude photography because of their names, or do folk change their names to those they deem appropriate for nudity? (or maybe some other options that I haven’t considered?) Is there some rule that says you can’t be a stripper called Gladys, or a demure lady called Roxanne?

    1. One way of looking at this is, do you think folk who want to look at nude photographs necessarily search by name?
      I’m guessing your answer is much the same as mine, “not really”.
      What it does say though is that there are certain names that are accepted culturally as referring to a type of character, though this of course is not prescriptive. Have you tried looking for a stripper named Gladys in the search bar?
      I do think however that names are anchors of identity, they define you according to both personal and cultural experiences and beliefs. So in changing your name you are also changing those referent meanings that reflect who you are or who you would like to be seen as.

      1. Equivocation will get you nowhere; is that part of being trout natured too? 🙂 one day you’ll provide me with a straight answer whenever I question one of your very liberal claims, and then I’ll fall off my chair in shock at your directness.

    1. Yet on WP people know you by different variations of your name until you request that they call you something specific. I know you as Noel, others know you as Mak, and I’m sure there are other nicknames that people have for you. That at least says something about who they are in relation to you.

  2. Interesting subject. I remember when my daughter was 8 or 9 years old, she told her school that she wanted to be known by a different name. What a fuss the school made! They even contacted us to ask that we speak to her and wanted to know if anything was wrong at home. Officialdom always wants to pigeonhole, classify and quantify people and nothing suits them better than having people with one identifier for life. Officially changing one’s name is a pain in the neck but why should one have to apply to anyone to change one’s name? Good for you for being known by different names. Hopefully this at least keeps the NSA on it’s toes 🙂

    1. In the UK at least it is almost a prerequisite to be known by a nickname, and actually the official system is quite accepting of that. Of course on paper birth names must be adhered to, but I would go so far as to say that here nicknames are a social testament of your affiliation with others. We are at the very least on first name terms even with official types.
      In Germany for example this is unheard of, even with the neighbours that you have known for decades. They are a very formal culture. We have become less so in recent times. Is it any different in the US?

  3. Hi M,
    You have my admiration for embracing different aspects of yourself, more or less formalized by being known by different names. When I left home many years ago, I thought I would call myself another name. I thought I’d go by the name of Jake instead of Jack. I thought I’d get a new start on things. That was all well and good until I was at a party, and fell back into my old ways. I introduced myself as Jack, and those who knew me as Jake were confused. Oh well, so much for my new start.
    I enjoy the scope and diversity of all your posts in all your personae. You are amazing.
    warm regards,
    Jack

    1. Hi Jack,
      Here in the UK having a different knick-name depending on who is referring to you is I would say is quite common, even though you may have a preference. I truly believe that here at least it is a linguistic tool that function to both reinforce solidarity and reinforce social pecking-order as I suggested in my reply to Malcolm above. So in that sense it is culturally normal for me from the perspective of being British. However, from the point of view of being Spanish I know that a similar custom is followed in Spain, and for much the same reasons, i.e. to distinguish people in society whether for supportive or subversive reasons. The Spanish also having a very dry sense of humour, they understand sarcasm in no uncertain terms, and that is a similarity that both my parental cultures share, and possibly a clue to this cultural habit of knick-naming. Academia aside though, I have found that being called anything other than my birth name, or familial variation thereof was an added bonus as they carry many unpleasant connotations. I was in my early 30s before I could bring myself to write my own name in a non-official context without feeling severely uncomfortable. Be that as it may, ’embracing different aspects of oneself’ is the operative statement, and the motivation behind everything I do now. So feel free to call me what ever you wish, although M I like.
      Thank you for your lovely complement, but you are pretty amazing yourself Jack, and I feel quite privileged that you take the time to read and comment on my posts at all. You are a fine friend.

      Warm regards
      M

  4. You do have a beautiful name and it suits you Maria but I love calling you Ish – being the beautiful, kind, generous, creative soul you are. Love your posts and visiting you. 😀 *big hugs*

    1. It’s taken me a long time to get used to my birth name, and I’m still not 100% comfortable with it for many reasons, but I do appreciate your compliment. Anyway I love that you love visiting, and that you call me Ish, it makes me smile 😀
      big hugs back

      1. I feel the same about my name and like my mix of my name and surname much better. 😆
        Glad you like it hon and that it makes you smile. 😀
        *big hugs*

      2. Oh, I don’t mind at all hon and it doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all. I think I just got too used to everyone on the net knowing me as Sonel that I like it more. You call me whatever you want. 😆

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