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Identity

I've been sort of thinking about this subject for awhile, but it's somewhat difficult to articulate my thoughts on it. It has to do with identity and who you are and naming. It seems to me that there's a huge focus on nailing down an "identity" on human beings, and that's almost impossible. Fortunately, an idiot politician gave me a good opening to talk about it.

Yesterday, in a moment of great pride for my state, a member of the Texas House asked a testifying member of the public, in apparent sincerity: "Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese - I understand it's a rather difficult language - do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"

There's a huge Voter ID bill that's up for debate right now, and a member of the Chinese community was explaining to this and other illustrious members of the Texas House that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems with voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license or on school registrations.

It's weird to me that this whole name thing is presumed to be nailed down so tightly when there are so many points along the line where a person's name may be changed or altered or abandoned.

Most of the men in my life have complications with their names. My father and my boyfriend both go by the "middle" names on their birth certificates. My father goes by his first initial, middle name, last name on correspondence and subscriptions, though sometimes someone will call using his first name and no one has a clue who they're talking about.

My boyfriend's legal name is a little unclear because at some point, the military suggested he legally change his name for simplicity's sake. He changed it in some places, but not in others, and when he was getting a driver's license in California, they just used the name on the social security card, which is the same on his birth certificate. That's the name on his Texas identification and voter's registration card, too. His legal name may be the name on the social security card/birth certificate. But maybe not. Maybe the process he went through in the military took and he's been going by the wrong name for 15 years. Who knows?

My brother has never been called the name on his birth certificate, social security card and drivers licence. That name is an anglicized version of the name he goes by. His diploma from college, his e-mail address at work, and his signature all bear his name as he's called by everyone who knows him. Only police officers pulling him over for speeding call him by his anglicized name (and one tried to shorten it, further complicating matters). My brother's identity has absolutley nothing to do with the names on those documents, yet somehow those documents are the only things that matter. Jose talked at some point about going through the process of changing his name, but when he looked into it, the trouble caused by a name change seemed to be more than that of having a name that isn't really yours.

I have a name that was bestowed to me upon my confirmation in the Catholic Church when I was 14 years old. It's not official on any documentation (save the Church's) or even part of my current identity, as I abandoned a formal relationship with that Church shortly after confirmation. But at one point it was part of me, part of my identity. I chose the name to honor both my grandmother and the aunt* that was my sponsor for that ceremony. And maybe there's some record of Christina Francesca Gloria Solis out there, and maybe it matters.

And this doesn't even begin to go into all of the other identities that a person might have, from nick names to professional/private names to assumed identities for various communities that one is part of.

Marriage, divorce, wanting to have the name you go by be the name on your documentation, having different names for different parts of your life or different cultures. I know a few people who changed their last names from that of the absent father to the always present mother, in order to properly identify with the family structure that the people felt they belonged to. I understand, of course, that in a lot of cases it is important to know who someone is, to verify identity. But there are so many variations of named identity throughout a lifetime that it's not as easy as it seems to pin down an individual to a simple name.

It just seems to me that fluidity of life makes these things harder to nail down than bureaucrats in Austin, and let's face it, all over the world, would like. Life is more complicated than neat and tidy forms, and I think that this is a good demonstration of that.


*Incidently, my aunt abandoned that name when she got married. She'd never gone by it, because of the confusion with my grandmother, and she wanted to keep her maiden name in her official name. So she dropped the Gloria and changed her name to Middle Name Maiden Name Married Name. My mother did something similar dropping her middle name for her Maiden Name. She'd still tell you though, that her middle name is Jayne, even though, officially, it no longer is.

Comments

( 9 comments — Say something )
electricland
Apr. 9th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Ain't it the truth. I briefly worked as a temp for the Law Society of Upper Canada, in the Bar Admissions office. We were very focused on getting people's legal names for their Bar Ad certificates -- there was a long list of documents that were and were not acceptable -- and it did often cause hassles, especially for immigrants or people whose law school diplomas didn't match what was on their legal documentation of identity.

As a personal wrinkle, the sister of a good friend of mine was working on being called to the bar at the time. She has both a Chinese name which she uses with family, and an English name which she uses with everyone else, but it's the Chinese name that was on her legal documentation, so that's what ended up on her bar certificate even though she never uses it in the wider world. (Not to mention, because her sister uses her Chinese name, I've gotten into the habit of using it as well when I see her, which I think weirds her out a bit -- must ask what she'd prefer me to use!)

So yes. As you say. Things are never as simple as lawmakers and computer programmers would like them to be. ;)
electricland
Apr. 10th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
oh, and BOTH my parents go by initial - middle name - last name, which causes no end of confusion.

And my full name is both WASPy as you can get and long enough that it doesn't actually fit on any cards. So yeah. Take that, Texas legislature!

(And computers seem to have terrible trouble with all sorts of fairly common names. Ask any de Something or van Somebody or Unhyphenated Last Name.)
charlayne
Apr. 9th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is something big to me too.

Bruce is my sweetie's middle name. His father was a J.B. D..., James Buford, though. Thankfully he didn't hang Bruce with Buford. His big sister still calls him Bruce but tries, at times, to call him JB, after dad. One girl at college tried to call him Jimmy but that was a disaster (and icky too). Officially he's "James" on everything but he doesn't even answer to it. And, when we were in SCA, he was "Hamish".

My second ex just changed his last name to match his wife's when he married, his father was an SOB and his mother is dead now so he didn't see any use in keeping his birth last name (and our daughter is married). So, he went from Baker to White. Weird.

I named my oldest daughter Kere'sa (ker-a-sa) but she got into her teens and decided to go by Silver. Now the whole family, including me, her dad, her husband, everyone calls her that.

My younger son is a John-Michael Joseph H. He goes by Mike or Michael in the family. People at work call him John (his dad's name, which is weird to me). We end up calling him "Little Mike" half the time because when his big brother (who was adopted at birth by another family) came back to the family, he is named Michael also. So, he's "Big Mike". And then there's the whole "which mike are we discussing" because we know so many Michaels. Dancer Mike is another one.

Then there's me. I've hated my "real" name (the one on the birth certificate and other official papers) since I was a kid. I got the whole "Ba..ba..ba..Bar bar bara Ann" (Beach Boys song) or "Barbie Doll" shit when I was young. I looked around, tried a few nicknames on for size and none fit. Then, in '79, a friend hung me with "Charlie" and it stuck. It was a really long story but it has been with me since. I wanted something more elegant to go with it and found I liked Charlayne. I always loved the name Elizabeth so that's what I adopted.

And I think the legal change is a huge problem too so it's not going to happen. HOWEVER, I have Barbara Charlie D....on my checks, on my credit cards, and I signed my Texas Drivers License as Charlie even though I have the "real" name on the name/address part. It almost kept me off an airplane once because the tickets were made out to "Charlie" and the DL was under that other name.

I even have to tell doctors and nurses when I have surgery that they have to call me Charlie because I won't acknowledge the other name if I am out, it's that ingrained in me.

I wish the people in Austin could make it easier to legally change a name if you are not someone who has been bad in life. But I'm going to use my chosen name now and forever. I even want it on whatever stone (if they do one) they put up as a memorial (my kids and grandkids want one even with my cremation).

rainbow
Apr. 9th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
*nod* I think names and identity are fascinating, which is probably no surprise.

My legal name since 1986 only shares the middle name with my birth name. P changed his middle and last names right after the wedding in 94 (first man in Hayward to change his via the SS office, and they were quite confused by it!). The first name I use now is similar to the legal name, but not not the same name. Mama A kept her married name because having a married name even though she was divorced helped her feel more adult than using her maiden name.

On my birth father's side, his paternal grandparents were both married using their middle names and last names (and I can't find any record of William Lee Hoyt anywhere before that marriage; no census records, nothing!).

I grew up with Mama A's married name and only found out since started the genealogical research a couple years ago that that was Sam's step-father's name!

My maternal grandmother's grandparents were all German Catholic immigrants in the 1860s, and a lot of those names got anglicised over here.

I'm doing volunteer work for ancestry.com right now, and it's *fascinating* reading the naturalization cards and seeing how the names were changed, sometimes to completely americanised forms and some only partly.

It's all so fascinating to me...
datawhorevoyeur
Apr. 9th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
"Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese - I understand it's a rather difficult language - do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"

Oh, grow up, jackhole. Learning someone's name is hardly learning Chinese. Maybe instead of re-naming people, thus creating the confusion in the first place, let them keep their names. I had a friend in college who went by the name Regina because back in grade school, some other little girl decided she "looked like a Regina," and promptly began calling her that. Probably because I come from a community in which being "called out of your name" in such a manner is so offensive, I was mad on her behalf, 15 years later. :-D And her actual Korean name wasn't even hard to say. I have another friend whose official name is now Lisa Sun-Hee. Because, you know. Sun-Hee (or Sunny, as so many actually call her) is SO HARD to say. I have heard so many stories of people being told, "Well, that's just too hard to say, so I'll call you ______." Um. You can call me that, but I won't answer, mmkay?

I don't know. I mean, it's one thing when a nickname grows out of your name, or you rename yourself for whatever reason. But this whole I can't be bothered to learn someone's name (which again, is hardly a whole language), and why don't they just have names that sound like mine anyway, because you know those foreigners just make so much trouble, and why can't everything just be in English because that's really our official language (even though at one point Germans were a pretty dominant ethnic group)... Well, it's just stupid. So I'm gonna go ahead and call all those folks Ah Bing, and Mankiller, and Tito, and whatever else suits my fancy, because clearly my personal comfort level is what's important here. You know. Because we're such an individualist, anti-conformist culture.

*rollseyes*

In other news, I think "Gloria" is an entirely appropriate name for you, and I think you should make us all call you that from now on, but as a title. As in, "Gloria 'stina." It's very regal, much like yourself. :-D
kimexclaimation
Apr. 9th, 2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
I want to ditto most of what you said. Honestly, for many of the Asian immigrants, pronouncing English names is equally difficult. People need to grow up and accept others.

Though, I will say that this whole topic is why I like Japanese so much. I don't know who made the decision to phonetically translate kanji into romanji, but that person was a genius. It's so accepted that I've seen anime with romanji subtitles. No big fuss. Of course in many cases you still need to know some of the Japanese rules to pronounce things. My first year teaching I had a kid in the second semester named Katsuki. All year his friends and teachers were calling him "Kat su ki". Since I know the "su in the middle of a word" rule, I pronounced his name "Kat ski". Students were confused and tried to correct me. He answered to his name either way. I continued to call him "Kat ski". Into the semester his math teacher, who'd had him all year, told me just found out that she'd been pronouncing a student's name wrong all year. I knew exactly who she was talking about.
rainbow
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
It boggles me the entitlement some ppl feel over other ppl's names and identity. BOGGLES.
adrililith
Apr. 10th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC)
This makes me think of the issue with names we have in Hawaii from asians(primarily Japanese) from my parents' generation. During the war, most of the people in my parents' generation were U.S. citizens but had Japanese names because most of their parents spoke Japanese as their primary language. When we parents and their friends were in school, the schools made them pick "American" names. Some were assigned names like my Uncle Winston (he was in student government, like Winston Churchill the teacher said). In other cases, teachers put up a list of names on the chalkboard and had the kids pick names off that list. One of my aunts was very disappointed that all the "good" names were gone by the time she got to pick (the teachers apparently didn't want more than one child with the same name in each class). But many of these people never legally changed their names ~ they just started using English names in lieu of their given names. In some cases, they used their English names and legal names interchangeably or at different times for different things. I've had cases where it has caused issues with the social security work record or estate planning or estate settling because assets were taken in different names.
aka_becker
Apr. 10th, 2009 09:36 am (UTC)
I was sort of thinking about this the other day myself, though more form this odd thing I've noticed in a lot of stories where knowing the name of something was key to controlling something. To know somethings "true name" was to have power over it. And me thinking that hat was a load of crap.

I go by several names and I'm fine with all of them. If anything, the name doesn't make me so much as it makes me aware of how I know the person calling me the name. My dad had a similar thing where his friends and family knew him as John, but his work related friends knew him as Jack due to him initializing everything JAC. And then there were a few people who could go wither way. Like a few people who alternately call me John or Becker. Only my family, and usually only when in regards to my father, call me the third. Other than them (and creditors), I don't even really think about that part of my name. Especially since I have no idea if my father was ever officially a Jr. as his father died right before he was born.

The way I was looking at the personal name thing was more of an equation with family. There is the family you are born into and the name you are born with. The name you use and respond to might change, as many people create a different family than the birth one.

Again though, I was thinking of it more on this odd power idea. I don't feel that anyone has any power by using any of the names I might respond to. They are just the names I like to go by. Lately, I've even been introducing myself to people as both John and Becker and let them call me what they want.

It's very late so I have no idea if anything Im saying is making any sense at all.
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