My parents named me after a grandfather and a great uncle. The names on my birth certificate are legal and binding. When I got married I took my husband’s surname, thus changing one name listed on my birth certificate with another legal document.

But I also use a nickname with most of my friends and at least some of my family. Partially wished on me by a grandmother and partially my own invention, this nickname has been part of my personal and online life for over 20 years. And its just as much a part of me as my achy knees or back. The labels we put on ourselves are sometimes the most meaningful. They stand for things we love about ourselves, or showcase something funny, or out of the ordinary. We gravitate towards these self-directed labels because they are something we control about our lives in a world where we often don’t control as much as we would like. Taking control of what we are called by those who want to communicate with us is a small step towards slightly better control over our existence.

Some cultures even make a nickname part of its acceptance of a person. In Somalia, for example, getting a nickname is part of how a person who comes from somewhere else knows that they have been accepted by the local people. (Read more about this here – ). The nicknames may seem rude, but they mean a lot to the people who get them. Other cultures do similar things, including our own. I have several friends who got nicknames wished upon them, and then they decided “This fits. I’m keeping it.” We may not even realize that a name fits us until much later, and spend lots of time groaning every time we are called it. Rejecting the label may be our way of trying to keep out the control of others.

There’s a famous scene in Lord of the Flies that showcases this. Piggy’s nickname is something he doesn’t want the other boys to know, and yet he has to reveal it. They taunt him with it, just like everyone else has, but in the end, the nickname has become a part of him. Owning the name gives him some control over his environment.

Whether you pick your own nickname or have one picked for you, remember that it means something. Because labels are important, especially the ones we use for ourselves.


3 thoughts on “Naming

  1. I understand that among the Mongol tribes in the early centuries, a man’s named changed when he achieved a great thing. There are times when I think that folks in the SCA should be given a new by-name when they move to the next level.

    • Indeed, Mongols, and other indigenous peoples of all lands got new names in the achievement of something. In the SCA we take a persona name, which should reflect something about us that we respond to. We get new labels in achievements (Baron/ess, Mistress/Master, Prince/ess, King/Queen, etc.) which we should incorporate into our other labels.

  2. We all have several names as we go through life. Billy becomes Bill, becomes William. Some we are given by our friends and enemies, some we give ourselves. Names do more than identify. They describe not only the individual, but their history, family, affiliations, accomplishments, even how they are thought of by others. My full SCA name is Sirhan(individual) al Cyani(place of origin) ibn Atai(family) Akarel Diablu(history) Black Knight of the East(accomplishment). We have both public names that all may use, and private names that may only be used by a select few. In “Dune”, when Paul is accepted into the Fremen, he had to choose the new name he would be known by publicly, and the name that could only be used by his tribe.

    There is a reason that the wizards of old kept their true name a closely guarded secret, names can give others power over us. Even I can be compelled by the proper use of my Name, by a VERY few people.

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