I have been thinking about this a lot lately. What is in a name, for me? Having recently got married, I have started to change my surname on some personal documents and have been considering what this means for me. I have found that, while it does give me more of a sense of my husband and I as a family, it doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch. It’s just new name, not a whole new identity, and we were pretty much in that emotional space anyway before we got married. My first name, on the other hand, is a whole different story.
Up until I was eight years old, I was known by my middle name. Why this came to be the case is not important here. The point is, when I reached eight, I decided, for various reasons, to reclaim my identity as my own, by insisting on being called by my first name. I figured I had a strong argument, after all, this was the name on my birth certificate and therefore my legal name. My strategy was pretty basic – for a few months, I refused to respond to anyone unless addressed by my ‘proper’ name, and eventually, almost everyone began to know me as Rachael.
Having fought so hard to claim this identity as my own, years later, when I started performing poetry at open mic nights, I decided not to use it. At gigs I would always introduce myself as ‘Honest,’ a stage name suggested by a friend on hearing some of my poems. I never revealed my actual name unless asked outright. One day I was introduced by someone who knew me well as Rachael, instead of ‘Honest,’ and I froze. It was fine to be honest and open with my words as ‘Honest,’ but as Rachael, it felt different. Somehow, I had separated the part of me that performed, that put my emotions out there in front of an audience, from the rest of me. I did pull myself together in the end, but afterwards I made a point of asking to be introduced as ‘Honest’ in future.
That was five years ago, and of course I have changed since then. Those separate ‘parts’ of me no longer need to act in isolation but I have continued go by the name ‘Honest,’ as, over time, this name has also become part of my identity.
So, if we go back to the original question:
‘What’s in a name?’
My answer would be: ‘That depends…’
However, if we change the question to:
‘What’s in your name?‘
Then the answer, quite simply, is ‘Me.’
How would you answer the same question?