The tyranny of your name

I have been pondering recently the usefulness of a name. A name comes to define us and yet we have absolutely no say in what are called.

When we are born we are naked, totally natural and unaltered. Almost immediately our parents rush to define us: “oh he looks like a James”, “she looks like a Bella”. 

In the UK the government requires you legally to register a child’s birth within 42 days. Thus binding the child’s name in officialdom for its life.

Parents spend the next 18 years shouting after the poor child: “eat you food Zara”, “stop crying Jack”, “don’t stuff Lego up your sisters nose, Jacob”.

When the little cherub comes of age they’re free from their parents torment. Free to spend their lives filling in forms; Store cards registrations, rental agreements, credit cards, student loansand car finance applications. All in preparation for the big dream mortgage application to finally tie their name down for the majority of their adult life to debt and thus ensuring their name is tied to their wage slavery.

Children often shorten their names in an attempt to rebel against their parents domination. Samuel become Sam, Matthew becomes Matt, Benajamin becomes Ben. 

Middle names become a source of shame. These are usually traditional family names that parents attempt to save their child from: too embarrassing for a first name, but nested in the middle they get indulge their selfish traditions only for said child to spend their life trying to hide their secret shame, only having to trot it out during the filling in of the aforementioned forms and applications. 

The sniggering of your wedding guests as “John Leslie Smith” is tied in matrimony to some lucky soul will echo in your memory for eternity.

And of course your name is ended with a surname. A family name passed down through the generations. A surname is a source of pride and ancestry is big business, there are even plaques and faux-posh coats of arms dedicated to your narcissism. 

My family held a “clan gathering” a couple of years ago dedicated to the non-achievements of people who happen to share the same name. I suppose it made them feel a sense of achievement that someone vaguely related to them did something that warranted a few inches in a newspaper at some time or other. I suppose it masks their own emptiness giving their ego a nice boost.

Yet a surname is little more than luck, you are as much your great great grandmothers surname as you are your fathers fathers fathers. And yet you are neither.

There is no legal requirement for a child to take his fathers surname. Yet culturally this persists despite the slight rise in double barrelled surnames (“oh now I have 2 names my parents received my chance, yay”).

In fact, there is no legal requirement to give your child the same surname as either yourself or your partner. You could literally call your child Abc Xyz.

Even more absurd is the prevailing cultural trend of woman taking their husbands surname upon marriage. There are increasing exceptions (thankfully) but it is still the overwhelming norm. Why don’t people challenge the bullshit paternalistic culture we have found ourselves in?

Humans are so much more than we can possibly vocalise in language. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our names. Names are identifiers and as an introvert, I don’t want to be identified a lot of the time anyway!

Yet names are convenient, it is true. I can’t look an author up if I don’t know what to look up. A name ends up a gateway to a persons life and for artists, their work becomes associated with it. 

Musicians are the one shining light in this area, especially in hip-hip where nicknames are the norm. Some authors take a nom de plume, yet in other art forms names prevail.

Yet I believe we should reject the names our parents give us, especially surnames. In the UK surnames began to develop about 1200 years ago and became required around 1000 years ago with the introduction of tax. Thus surnames were introduced as a means of control, a way of knowing who owes what.

And that hasn’t changed too much today, has it?

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