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Wanting, and names

May 9, 2012

I had wanted to write about several other things, but haven’t had the spoons available. Today, though, another post by Cliff Pervocracy got me thinking. Actually, one of the posts I haven’t gotten around to writing yet was inspired by the very thinky Boiling Frogs and Family. Except for the slapping part, it sounds like we grew up in the same family, and that will affect how you learn to interact with other people.

But, the one that helped draw together a few threads of thought today:

Name change.

This reason, in particular, gave me pause:

f) The big one: I want to.

I’ve been having issues with wanting things lately.  Something in my brain, part from my family and part from society and maybe part just me, tells me that simply wanting a thing isn’t a good enough reason to do it.  It tells me that wanting is inherently selfish and unbecoming, that wants must always be placed below all other considerations.  I can do a thing because it’s healthy, because it’s feminist, because it makes other people happy, because it’s educational.  I can’t do it just because I want to.

(This has not made me a beautifully selfless and giving person.  More “neurotic and passive.”)

Honoring our own desires is not something we’re taught to do.  It’s assumed that kids are balls of cheerfully self-indulgent id already, that all you have to be taught is how not to eat everything and hump everything and name yourself Rocketship.  The lesson on “actually, indulging yourself in safe and considerate ways is not just okay but necessary” never really comes.

So it’s something I’m learning as an adult.  I’m learning that eating delicious things makes me healthier than diet-and-shameful-binge cycles.  I’m learning that asking for sex doesn’t always get me laid but it has a much better track record than not asking for sex.  I’m learning that when I have the time and money I’m allowed to go out and do silly things.  (Did you know Boston has a trampoline park?!)  I’m learning that well-considered self-indulgence is not half as annoying or gross or immature as allowing yourself to turn into a big bitter ball of frustrated desires.

I’ve wanted for months to start using this new name, and my “Wanting Isn’t Good Enough” brain kept digging up objections.  It’ll be inconvenient for people!  It’ll be confusing!  It’d be okay to change to a masculine name if you were trans but since you’re not then you’re not allowed! It’s frivolous!  It’s self-indulgent.

Damn skippy it’s self-indulgent.  It brings me happiness and does nothing else for the world, and that’s okay, because bringing me happiness is something real and important.

Bolding added, because yeah. That’s a long quote, but I had to include it all because it’s just so relevant to my own experience. This  is something I have been working on, as well.

I mean, a  month or two ago, I managed to work myself up into anxiety attacks over buying a rain barrel, when we are having a drought, and some plant shelving (on sale for, IIRC, £7.99 and £9.99 respectively, when we are nowhere near starving). It’s to that level sometimes.

There is also the “deservingness” factor at times, when I start into the unhelpful loop of “why should you have/do X when you can’t even do Y and Z totally unrelated things?” (a heavy factor there, when the inside of the house is a cluttered mess.) Also, with admitting to wants or even basic needs, the idea–firmly based in experience–that this will give someone else a potential handle with which to manipulate you if they want to. When, yeah, I really don’t want to spend time around people with whom that concern is even relevant.

So, that expression of having problems with wanting things hit pretty close to home.

So did the specific example prompting the more general discussion. One of the places I’ve been giving in to feelings of obligation and, frankly, guilt over wanting something different? Continuing to use my given name on a daily basis, when I don’t particularly like it and don’t think it really suits me. This is another case–along with asking people to use different pronouns–where I am fully behind other peoples’ right to self-determination…but have trouble applying that right to myself.

Bad associations should be enough. As I’ve mentioned before, I had some serious rhotacism going when I started school, and a first name starting with an “R” is a perfect excuse for making the misfit’s life a living hell. (My surname also had two of them. Ouch.) There were not just the honest difficulties understanding what I was trying to say my name was, there was the outright taunting and calling it in bad Elmer Fudd voices at basically every opportunity. You know you’ve got some mean kids–and mean adults teaching them how to behave, and/or ignoring it–when somebody’s name can get used as a weapon that way. I still cringe when anyone calls my name.

Social gender dysphoria is also part of it for me, though not the most pressing or important part. My given name, to me, calls up the idea of a more demure style of femininity I can’t do and have never seen the point in doing. That’s just not who I am.

Which also ties in with the main problem I have with it these days: Christian hegemony and decolonization. I was given a Biblical name by an atheist, after someone she knew and admired. (Another reason I have hesitated, not wanting to seem like I was disrespecting my namesake–whom I never even met, since IIRC she died when I was a toddler.)  Still, a Native atheist gave me a Biblical name. Which does not describe me, and the associated stories are nothing that I would take as an example in life.

Christian dominance has become so invisible that its manifestations appear to be secular, i.e. not religious. In this context, the phrase “secular Christian dominance” might be most appropriate, Christian hegemony under the guise of secularism. Of course, there are many forms of Christian fundamentalism which are anything but secular. Often fundamentalists want to create some kind of theocratic state. But the more mainstream, everyday way that dominant Christian values and institutions influence our lives and communities is less evident, although no less significant and certainly not limited to fundamentalists. #

Calling myself  ᎴᏥᎵ “Letsili” # is not going to help, no. (That may not display right if you don’t have a suitable font installed, but no matter.) While I do agree, to some extent, with Robert K. Thomas from one of his non-academic works, any kind of monotheistic religion is just not my thing, and I do not easily identify with names drawn from traditions which are just not mine.

Now many of them want to bring that old struggle from Europe between godly Christianity and sinful paganism over here on this side and foist it off on us. It is a false issue for us.

(I am not so sure about some of his context there, but that is a good point.) Cue the false dichotomies, backlash, ridiculously inappropriate strife, etc. I do not want to feed into that, having seen it at work to some extent–though nothing like what he did, decades ago. And so it continues. (And, yeah, that is one of the reasons I do not identify at all with movement atheism. False dichotomies, from my perspective, abound.) One of the things I have been wanting to write about is religion and non-interference, but my limited spoons start disappearing as I get angrier every time I even start thinking about it, and I just end up wanting to slap the fire out of some people.

I’m not looking to legally change my name again, having already done it once in my twenties for my surname. (Started using my mother’s, and threw a masculine-form re-Gaelicized version of what my father’s would have been had his grandfather not run away from an abusive home at 14 and changed it, into the middle for balance.) For some reasons I’d no longer find compelling, but I don’t regret having done it. I already have trouble keeping up with the one set of paperwork, especially having moved between countries with the specter of further moves always looming.

Someone in comments on the OP made the excellent point that multiple official name changes only look dodgy if they’re not from marriages. I’ve broken enough people’s brains (mostly in official capacities) as it is, having changed it once unconnected to marriage. It’s also more likely to require documentation to get things like credit cards switched over, BTW. 😦

Also, from someone else:

It’s amazing how changing your name just because you feel like it is OMG awful scary can’t expect people to do it! But changing your name because you got married/divorced is totes normal and everyone should instantly comply and respect your wishes.

Erm, yeah. And that is even when your new name looks “normal”.

I have to say that I never got any weird reactions to having changed my surname, back home. (A lot of people knowing it was my mother’s probably did help, though it’s not their business anyway.) Nor any questioning at all over not having changed it upon marriage, which I have gotten here in Greater London. (Including at a job interview. Seriously. They also asked about my plans for having kids. And, yes, that is illegal, as I had assumed it probably was.)

But, then, the surname changes upon marriage are a relatively late (mostly late 19th or 20th century, AFAICT) “civilizing” development where I am from, and particularly older women will tell you “I’m not a Jones; my husband is a Jones” even if they are using that name on paper. I’m not used to it being anywhere near the feminist issue it seems to be elsewhere.

From What’s in a name? Or leaving your patrilineage behind. (an interesting read, on variation even within Europe):

For starters, the tradition of taking a father’s surname at birth and then a husband’s at marriage is not a universal custom. In fact, it is an English custom, which made the transfer across the Atlantic to the Anglo-American communities in the US with the early settlers, and spread into other parts of Britain in the nineteenth century. This particular naming custom is at the heart of most feminist critique. It was partnered with a legal and customary system (called coverture) that saw women as property, and saw marriage as the contract which transferred women from their father to their husband. In this model of marriage, women were literally ‘made-one’ with their husband- their legal identity subsumed into his, and they had no rights, whether to vote, to make contracts, to do business, or manage their own property. The process of name changing then highlighted that woman was without an identity of her own…

In Scotland, while women also had limited legal rights, they did not have coverture [implying actual legal personhood] and women kept their family name on marriage. This reflected a belief that marriage was not the subsuming of women into her husband’s family or person, but that marriage was the joining of two families in an alliance.

I had read elsewhere that there wasn’t a lot of name-changing going on in this context in the Highlands until way up into the 19th century. It certainly was not a thing when that portion of my ancestors were leaving, and promptly getting involved with other people from matrilineal or bilineal societies that didn’t use surnames at all. But who had to start trying to fit patrilineal ones onto an incompatible social structure, even if they sometimes needed to resort to nabbing names from the neighbors.  Official names were very fluid for a long time, out of necessity, it also used to be easy to move and set up a whole new public identity, which also gets lost in some current insistences that everyone has One True Name.

And I suspect, BTW, that avoiding the really horrible feme covert legal status and property rights–besides CoE marriages being the only legal ones in Virginia, before the colonist revolution–had a lot to do with officially recognized marriage not being that common in my family until after it ended in the 19th Century. I sure as hell wouldn’t knowingly sign up for that, especially if I wanted to keep legally owning and managing land. (Not that anyone who was identified as Native could do that in West Virginia until after the Civil Rights Act…so, lots of incentive to use vaguely British names on paper, at any rate, and keep your head down.)

I am increasingly finding myself agreeing on one level with Chally’s take in Not enough is in a name, prompted by the nymwars:

I’ve written before about how feminist debates about women changing their names to their husbands’ leave me out in the cold. As surnames weren’t traditional in my culture until some Europeans decided we should fit into their economic structures and social norms, I really resent the idea that any kind of decision I make with a surname has any social justice value on this score. If I were to marry a man and take his surname, that would have about the same value to me as keeping my birth surname would have done. I don’t think that maintaining an artificially assigned and patrilineal surname would have been a particularly feminist act for me. As it happens, I’ve changed my surname in a manner quite unconnected with marriage, and, while I’m happier, I don’t see any feminist victory in any action I could take here.

It’s a bit more complicated in my case, but yeah. That’s the main thing that got this surname tangent going: names and their associations get turned into very, very complicated things.

Even more complicated in this particular case: a lot of my relatives go by nicknames that have very little to do with their given names. (Probably a good thing, in the case of, say, “Pig” or “Squinchy”…) But, I might add, always given by someone else. I do not want to use any of the couple of other names I carry, either–and with the some-kind-of-personification synesthesia (not exactly OLP–and words/letters/numbers never, ever have anything like gender for me, either!), the gender-neutral short form of my name just sets my teeth on edge. Both written and spoken.

And I persistently have trouble feeling like I do have the right to choose one for myself, even if my extremely (and sometimes very nastily) hypersensitive-to-any-perceived-criticism mother who gave me this one  is not around to feel insulted by any change now.

I have thought about it more than a few times, and I think all the complications and anxiety here help make it harder to even come up with something I don’t mind using. But, I really would like to ditch the first name I was given for daily use.

Sometimes wanting really is enough reason.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2012 2:28 am

    And today I add “rhotacism” to my vocabulary. Thank you again. I’d be curious to know, what’s your take on this? Therapy or assimilation? My SO uses them (not “as directed”) for her singing practice, as a substitute for a device invented by vocal pedagogist Douglas Stanley.

    • urocyon permalink*
      May 11, 2012 5:10 pm

      If it helps and the person’s speech bothers them, I don’t see a big problem offhand. Focusing so strongly on that sort of thing in the first place doesn’t seem great, though it makes a lot more sense in the context of singing.

      I don’t think that sort of thing would have helped me stop sounding like Jonathan Ross, though. (He has certainly done OK with it.) Speech therapy was a loss, anyway, when the “problem” was/to some extent still is a low, slowish-maturing palate. (Professional opinion, which didn’t stop the school system from sticking me in it anyway…which led to extra bullying, including from the poorly-trained therapist. Another story entirely.) I guess it’s about as mature as it’s going to get by now, though. 🙂

  2. May 10, 2012 11:25 am

    I think names are fascinating and I love Cliff Pervocracy’s idea that we might all choose a name when we reach adulthood – which in fact is close to some religious riturals, e.g. Christian children choose a saint’s name at confirmation. My friend became a nun and is now known by two names which she chose herself – her confirmation name and the saint’s name she chose when she became a Novice (I think – there are so many stages of becoming a nun, I may have got the order muddled).

    I think one of the reasons that feminists argue about married names vs. maiden names is that folks feel very strongly about the personal choices they make – even though, as Chally says, there is no revolutionary choice.

    Having lived so long on the Internet, I quite like the idea of having different names in different contexts. This is something that’s always happened to some extent with pet names, family names, names prefixed by rank or qualification etc.. I know a couple of married women who use both their husband’s and father’s surnames in different contexts. There are lots of people in my family who are known by their first name and middle name to different folk.

    My mother has had phases of loathing her first name, Marilyn. Partly because she thinks that nobody can hear the name without thinking of Marilyn Monroe. Partly because her mother, who sounds a bit like yours, pronounced it in a way which always made the word sound like a complaint. Mum’s often seriously thought about changing her name, but never struck on one she liked.

    However, now she is Granny to my nephew and even my Dad and I address her as Granny much of the time, so the issue seems to have become moot.

    I think if there is a name you like, you should totally go for it. And don’t think about it in terms of discarding your given name – it’s not like that has to be wiped away for good.

  3. May 10, 2012 10:34 pm

    You know you’ve got mean kids – and mean adults teaching them how to behave, and/or ignoring it – when somebody’s name can get used as a weapon that way. I still cringe when anyone calls my name.

    You were bullied this way, too, huh?

    And the stuff you mention about buying things, being reluctant to buy them because you don’t think you should? I can relate to that, too: I mostly think of this as good, since it’s an internal Frugality Police (and mine isn’t as unbending or severe as yours), but even when I was a child I knew there were things my family couldn’t afford, and because asking for things is hard for me for some reason, eventually I’d just not ask for things that were expensive or nonessential. I believe I have this to a greater degree than either of my siblings because my family got richer as my dad advanced in his job, and I am the oldest. I have more memories of when we had less, and more of my identity was formed in that period. But I was also treated more as a person whose wants, needs and feelings mattered (not always to the point that they outweighed other factors, like money or logistical difficulties, but I never felt that they were weighted at zero either), I have no trouble whatsoever buying something, especially with my own money, just because I want it. (I am currently dependent on my parents, too, which adds to the MUST. MINIMIZE. COSTS. imperative I carry around.)

    I also recognize the name stuff. I hated my first name all through my childhood, and signed everything, and insisted on being called by, a series of pseudonyms. These were usually androgynous (“Moe”, for instance) and sometimes pointed at my seeing myself as non-human (I just found a card I had made for my grandmother that was signed “the Turtle” — I don’t even remember ever calling myself that!). I hated my name because, #1, it was super-common (my elementary-school class, when I was living in a town of five thousand people, had FOUR. LINDSAYS. in it), and #2, like yours, my name connoted a strain of femininity that I really, really wished to repudiate. (For me, “Lindsay” spoke of a perky cheerleader femininity, rather than the demure femininity “Rachel” carries for you).

    But I’ve gotten so used to it I don’t think now that I’ll change it … it’s kind of like my being female in that way, LOL. Didn’t ask for it, wouldn’t choose it, don’t particularly *like* it, but there it is.

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