“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.?” – William Shakespeare.
A lot of discussion and thought have been coming up in my life lately around names.
One friend just got married and took her spouse’s last name. Another person I know recently came out as transgender and was able to choose their own new name. And then one of my extremely talented nightlife gender bending half drag queens uses the same name on and off the stage.
So I think to myself. What is in a name?
Let’s start with the married friend. She has chosen (as tradition dictates) to take her spouse’s name. You all know I’m not really one for traditions, but in this case I understand the symbolism behind bonding your family names. (Personally I’d hyphenate or create a totally new last name for both of us, but that’s a whole other Oprah.) I’ve come to realize now over the last few days since her Facebook has changed names I feel like I almost don’t know her. Who is this person writing on my wall with a new name? I know who she was, I’ve known her by that other name for seven years of friendship, but who is she now? This is a stranger to me. Do I have to start fresh? Rebuild our relationship? Obviously she is the same person she’s always been, but it is going to take some time to readjust. There is no equity or trust in this new name yet.
Now, it’s almost the whole other side of the argument for the trans friend I have. They are choosing a name in order to start fresh. To be themselves. To finally have a name that reflects the person they’ve always been inside. It’s a positive thing and a life changing experience for them to choose their name. The reason they’ve decided to change their name though is not necessarily because they hate their given name, but because people associate most names with a gender. It starts way before the child is born or has a personality at all. We always hear the questions, “What are you going to name it IF IT’S A BOY?” Personally, I could probably get away with using Stevie on either end of the spectrum, but what if my first name was Anthony (my middle name). If I were trans and started expressing a female gender identity with my clothing, hair, makeup, etc. but kept my name as Anthony I’m sure some eyebrows would be raised.
I wish everyone in the world chose their own name one they’ve reached adulthood. Formed their own identity with a name that they feel fits them best. I bet we would have a lot more creative names out there. I’ve sort of developed my identity in adulthood as “Stevie” out of my given name. (I did it backwards from most folks. I was strictly “Steven” until about 12. Then I went by “Steve” until about 19-20 and now most folks have adopted me as “Stevie.”) But growing up I ALWAYS wanted the name Kevin. It just resonated with me. If it were tradition or acceptable at the time I would have changed my name in a heartbeat.
What about Marti? My friend Marti Gould Cummings is known by the same name by the government, his friends, family, and even the fans of his gender-bending drag shows. To him, it is nothing more than a name and he told me once “If I was going to be well known for drag I didn’t want to be known by any other name than my own.” (RuPaul had this theory too) Why would he build his empire and build equity behind a stage name when you have a birth name like Marti Gould Cummings… I mean. Take out that first “U” and… I mean… It was just a name MADE for a drag queen.
What is interesting about the day and age that we live in is that many of folks from my generation are used to changing our names on the regular. The generation that grew up when AOL and Instant Messaging and screen names began is quite familiar with having a new name to go by every so often online. (I’ve been: TazBoy34, EmmasSpiceBoy, SpiceBoy3434, LilSuperSteve, TheShenanigans, and finally became StevieNYC, just to name a few.) I’m pretty stuck with StevieNYC now, and like my birth name I’ve built some equity, worth, and trust associated with the name.
So, I guess the only thing behind your name (aside from sometimes being associated with a gender) is really just the feeling that you give to it. It’s your own personal brand. A brand you could have been building since birth, one that you are just starting to use with your new life, or maybe a screen/stage name that displays only a part of the “whole you.” What others feel when they hear your name you can’t exactly control, but hopefully it goes in tandem with how you feel about yourself.
THAT is what’s in a name.