Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What’s in a Name?

Names have been of interest to me lately, as several people have mentioned mine in complimentary ways, while I've also encountered my former name in a way that was shocking. It got me thinking about what a name really means.

Usually, it's just treated as a generic label for individuals. Frequently those labels seem to fit the people who wear them, but often, they don't. In my case, my former name label was one that didn't fit me at all. Not my mother's fault. How was she to know what I would like or not? Even more, how could she ever predict that that baby boy snuggled to her breast was actually a girl? It certainly didn't show from the outside. The answer, of course, is that she couldn't predict it. She named me as best she could with almost no insight into my nature or personality, and none at all into my gender. How could she ever have the foresight to, as the song of the time suggested, "name me Sue?"

The truth is, a name is more than a generic label. It is an individual signifier, an emblem of a person's individuality that interfaces with the world and all society. It is a matter of considerable importance to a person's self-concept. But we've made it really hard to change, and socially, culturally, changing the name your parents gave you is not common or encouraged. Now, with the federal ID laws coming down the pike, more legal hurtles are being raised against changing names.

I think it's time for a change. Names are actually too important to leave entirely to uncertain prediction and the sometimes careless whims of parents. A better idea, I think, is to make a naming day or ceremony part of graduating from high school. Or maybe it should be something you do upon reaching majority (the age 18 majority), a sort of ritual to help initiate young people into the fullness of adult citizenship and responsibility; a way to mark their new role in society. On that day, each person could choose whether to label themselves with a new name that describes themselves more effectively, or keep their own. If associated with graduation, it could be a part of the packet – class ring, invitations, cap & gown, name change forms.

Important here, that their parents don't take it personally. Let's recognize that we're not perfect, and we really can't predict our child's path in life when we give them that first label to describe our hopes and beliefs about them. Let's just be grateful for the time we had, and let them go.

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Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our