I’ve been thinking a lot about writing this post, and I’m not really sure exactly what direction to take it, because I have a handful of things I want to talk about. I think first, I want to talk about labelling and names being slightly more formal labels, and second, I want to talk about the power of names and about True Names (the way I understand them). I’ll try and keep it to those two subjects.
This may not make a whole lot of sense to anyone but me. But if you’re curious about my views, read on.
The first thing you should know is that right now, I simultaneously have many names, and no name. I’ve been shifting my identity quite a lot over the past few years, and trying to find a name that properly aligns with where my identity is, especially when it’s still in flux (and I can’t say I know if or when it will ever settle), is a rather difficult task. So it’s come to the point where I have a handful of names that different people use for me in different situations, and I’m okay with that.
I have my birth name, which my family still calls me and which some of my friends still call me. I have the name I chose last year, which some of my friends call me, which I’m falling away from—I had one I’d chosen before that, that some professors would probably still call me, but I’ve stopped using that one and actually rather dislike it, so there’s a part of me that I feel like I got rid of when I got rid of that name, which was a healthy move at the time. I have the “new” name I’ve chosen, which is not one people are calling me yet, but it’s one I’ve used as a pen name in the past. I have my internet handle, which has been my “name” for about 12 years and which I identify with almost as closely as with my birth name, and which I wouldn’t terribly mind being called offline as well (and have been, a couple of times). And there’s the name I consider my “true” name, which nobody calls me but a few people know (or know a shortened version of), and that’s the one that feels the most “powerful” to me.
Why so many names? Why can’t I pick one and move on with my life?
Because, to me, it’s not that easy.
See, the thing about all the labels I pick up, whether they refer to my gender, or my sexuality, or my species, or my spirituality, or anything else—that’s just it. They all only refer to a specific portion of my life and my identity. A name describes the whole. It applies to me as a whole person. And beyond the obvious problem of finding a name that sums up who I am, there’s the fact that the way I present myself changes based on who I’m around, so I feel almost as if I need a different name for myself in all of my social groups.
As for the power of names…
I feel as though, by changing what I go by and by going by so many different names, I’ve diluted the amount of power than any specific person holds over me, because they don’t know (or don’t use) all of my names. I believe that names have a special kind of power, though it’s a power I find difficult to describe. It’s not quite ownership of a person or of their being, but it’s…close, on a spiritual level. We have the power to label ourselves however we want. We have the power to change our names if we want. We have the power to give ourselves names that invoke certain feelings, certain strengths, certain connections—if I wanted (and if I were comfortable with it and if I felt I was at that point), for instance, I could call myself Thor’s Child (though I could never be Thorsson or Thorsdottir, because I am neither a son nor a daughter).
Names hold power in a way that our generic labels can’t, because they are a sum of our parts. They explain us as a whole. They identify us and our individuality. And that’s probably part of the problem I have with names—I am no one else, and so I want to have a name for myself, or a combination of names for myself, that I don’t have to share with anyone else. Settling on one or two names to put on paper, for me, would be a sort of sacrifice of self. Having a great many names gives me wiggle room, gives me flexibility, gives me identity.
What I have done, in essence, is write down a long list of who I am, then smudge my hand over the list until it’s unreadable to anyone except me.
And I feel much more comfortable that way. It’s not that I don’t want anyone knowing who I am—it’s that I feel I lose power when any one person knows too much. Maybe it’s because I’m secretive, or maybe it’s because I feel a sort of duty to myself to protect myself, and by spreading parts of myself so far and wide, I feel safer, because it’s less likely that any one person (unless I so choose) will ever have complete control over me and my life by simple virtue of having incomplete knowledge about me and my life.
I guess, in sum, I believe that names have power because I believe words in general have power and that knowledge has power, and I don’t want anyone to have power over me unless I give them explicit permission to hold that power. And just as easily, I want the ability to give myself a new name and take that power away again, should I need to.
I believe that everyone should have the autonomy to name themselves, if they so choose, or to redefine what their given name means, if they want.
My birth name still means a great deal to me, and I’ll never give it up, because it’s still the most tied to me (in more ways than just others identifying me and because it’s the one I’m bound to legally). But it’s only a part of me, not all of me. And that, I think, is the hardest thing to explain.
I’ve likely made a mess of things, trying to sort my own thoughts. But there you go, if you made it this far.
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