What's in a name?

You read about transgender people who felt like either their penis or breasts weren't really part of them, that they didn't fit their conception of who they were.  Others tell them, "No, that is who you are," but obviously your identity is inside of you, not something external, and they are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to be rid of things they were given that they don't associate with themselves.

For those who don't know already, my own name hasn't always been Alex, but I've long hated the one I was given at birth.  It just didn't fit me any more than I think a dress would.  And if I don't go around wearing dresses, why would I go around with a name I never chose for myself that was similarly ill-suited?

I started using the name "Alex" online probably about a year before my ex and I split.  When we finally did, I started using it a lot more.  For one thing, I was suddenly on dating websites, and when it asked for a name, I invariably went with some permutation of "Alex."  I didn't adopt a new persona, but I was going through a life change (i.e., I went from married guy to dating guy).  I didn't start a Fight Club or anything though.  (Note: If you don't get this, just move right along, okay?)

To this day, my sixth sense tingles whenever I encounter ill-fitting names, and this has never been confined to just my own name.  Now I don't believe in numerology or any of that bullshit, but some names just don't fit their owners.  Maybe the problem is mine and not theirs, but I just can't bring myself to call them by what's on their driver's license.

A few years ago I was teaching a lab in which one of my students was a woman in her late thirties with long black hair.  "Connie," I thought, and never bothered to learn her real name.  At first she was a bit confused when I called her Connie, but I explained matter-of-factly that she looked like a Connie.  She thought I was crazy and, because of or in spite of this fact, she let me continue calling her that.  In fact, the rest of her lab group agreed that she did indeed look like a Connie, and they began calling her that as well.  I don't even remember her real name, but I can picture her, and to me she'll always look like a Connie... whatever the hell that is.

Another one of my students (from a different semester, lest you wonder if the class thought I was completely nuts) was named Belinda.  I've asked around, and it seems I'm not alone in thinking that "Belinda" is a fat girl's name.  This Belinda was relatively thin.  I liked the highlights in her hair though, so I called her Amber.  Unlike "Connie" who was sort of resigned to being called whatever by whomever, Belinda decided "Amber" was a slutty name.  How ironic!  Apparently I'm not the only one who is encumbered by associations with names.  I just wonder if she knew an "Amber" at some point, and if she had her boyfriend stolen away by her or something.  We settled on calling her by her middle name: Jen.

I find it odd that women change their last names when they marry.  Why then?  Most take it for granted in spite of the (to me) obvious patriarchal history behind this tradition.  But if someone changes his or her first name (outside of show business, anyway), everyone thinks it is a sign of some deeper dissociative issue like multiple personalities or delusional thinking.  What gives?

In an age where people change themselves through "superficial" things like dieting, tanning, and plastic surgery, it seems strange to me that others would find it strange that I would change my own name.   My question is why not?

Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.

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