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28 March, 2009

Changing names, changing identities

I have not known very many people who changed their names, either legally, formally, or informally. Some people do it, though. And it is interesting to me because people have reasons for doing it, and it clearly has something to do with identity. There are extreme cases of it, where people have gender transformations, and go from being Ralph to being Harriet. Yes, you cannot continue being Ralph, I understand. But there are lots of other, more subtle instances. They could have to do with embracing a different sexual orientation, moving to a new place, joining a new set of acquaintances, leaving a prior family or relationship situation, career, the list goes on. There are a million reasons. But it's interesting that we have such a close relationship between how we identify ourselves internally and externally, and the combination of letters by which we are addressed.

What connotations do this titles have? Going from Bob to Robert, for instance, could be an example of wanting to be taken more seriously, right? Bob is a fun name. Bob is something that you do when you bounce up and down in the water. Bob is a name that will make people think of Bill Murray movies. Bob is a fun, light-hearted guy. Heck, I don't even know how anyone could go by that name, to be honest with you. Unless, of course, you've always been called that. Then it ceases to be all the other Bobs out there, and instead becomes just a monosyllabic utterance to which you've been accustomed to responding. And why not switch to Robert? It's a more serious name. I bet there are plenty of people who would say it's a better name. But for some reason, you can't, because it's not you. There's an identity. When I'm home with family, my relatives call me Bobby. And I am okay with that. So identity is contextual (I realize I am giving away the fact that my name is not Mick - oops - whatever - I could substitute Michael, Mike, Mick, and Micky here, but that's getting silly). 

Sometimes people decide to go by their middle names instead of first names. That's clearly a bigger identity shift, than going from nickname to formal name. 

What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet... but alas, identity, emotion, cognition are all a tad more complex than the scent of a rose.

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