by Grace and Jessica
“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
Yesterday, we read this piece by Jill Filipovic on women changing their names when they marry men. We kind of hated it. It’s simplistic, patronizing, Eurocentric, and very narrow in its perspective – typical of mainstream U.S. feminist commentary on this issue.
And yes, this made us angry. We took to Twitter to say as much, as we do, and got some pushback for it.
Those of us in the feminist blogosphere are familiar with this cycle. Privileged, misguided commentary sparks a flurry of furious rebuttals. The folks being criticized, and their supporters, rebut right back. Little, if any, of the critique is really absorbed. A day or a week or a month later, it happens again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Naming problems (pun intended) we see in media we consume is valuable and necessary. But this time, we want to do more than just get angry. We don’t want to leave the discussion at a response to this article. We agree with feminists like Filipovic that this is an important conversation – too important to leave it up to Big Media to frame it for us, and to do so around faulty and incomplete assumptions.
We can start our own conversation. We can shift, reshape, and recenter it. And that’s exactly what we’d like to do, hopefully with your help. We want to intentionally and from the outset center people left out of mainstream discussions of naming and identity.
With that in mind, we’re inviting people to share their stories and reflections on what names mean, and what it means to change one’s name. We want to bring together a range of voices – POC, queer, trans, immigrant (not just to the U.S.!), global, nonmonogamous, and the various intersections of these.
We could have done a forum on issues of naming within a specific group or identity – and this is also a much needed discussion. But our specific hope here is to create a forum that shows how rich and complex the relationship between names and identity is, and provide a variety of jumping points for multiple conversations about what names mean.
Filipovic argues that “Your name is your identity,” and that changing it is giving up a part of yourself. We would argue something much broader this. Names are powerful, and often intimately related to our self-identity. But the relationship is not an easy, uncomplicated one. It’s not as simple as saying that the name you’re given is your identity, or that you have one name and one identity, or that changing your name means erasing your identity or part of who you are.
Names can be given, they can be claimed, and reclaimed. They can be denied by the people they are “given” to, or denied by people who refuse to recognize the names we claim for ourselves. Names can be imposed as way of erasing authentic identity. Many of us have multiple names and straddle identities. There are a range of stories – historical and personal – to be told about naming, a variety of meanings signified by names.
We’re really excited about creating a forum to share some of these stories. We already have several contributors lined up, and we (Jessica and Grace) will also be sharing stories from our own families as well. Starting on March 17th, we’ll be posting them alternately at Are Women Human and here at Flyover Feminism.
We hope you’ll join us in reading and discussing these stories, and maybe contributing one of your own. The format – video, essay, poetry, etc. – is up to you. And if there’s a piece of media you really love that speaks to names and identity, feel free to share that, too. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
We’d like to thank Spectra Speaks and Ann Daramola/Afrolicious for shaping the ideas in this post and continually reminding us of the need to tell our own stories. We too can create the media we want to see. Let’s get to it. Let’s talk about names.
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