Gender & Identity, Life

My family might call me one name, but my friends know me by another

I had never been so confused before. I had never given so much importance to what was really just a word.

When I was about 6 years old, I remember my mother sitting down to check my homework and suddenly getting really upset. My dad was sitting next to her but was not nearly as disgusted by whatever she was looking at. It was at the very top of the paper – that one line on an assignment that you figure you’ll always have the right answer for.

“That is not your name! Where’s the rest of it?!”

I had never been so confused before. I had never given so much importance to what was really just a word.

To a lot of people this probably doesn’t make sense – how does one leave off part of their name? Do you misspell it? Does “Emily” become just “Em”? Is it the colloquial-ness that’s upsetting this girl’s mother? The short answer to all that is no. It’s far more complicated than that.

As you might already be able to tell, I really hate my given name. So much so that I’m going to go forward without actually disclosing it: instead I’m going to say it’s MaryJane. With no space or hyphen in between. That has been broken down throughout my life either to Mary or Jane by themselves, once again varying by context.

You’re already annoyed, aren’t you?

Welcome to the life.

In my experience, the majority of people I’ve met who are in a similar boat as mine come from a variety of cultures where it’s totally normal to have a home name and an outside, supposedly more “professional,” name. Some people are happy with having the two (or sometimes more) and others end up like me – severely despising all but one. The strange part is that I do come from a culture that does that – it’s perfectly normal in Trinidad to have more than two names. Most of my cousins do. Maybe I’m the odd one out here. But that’s irrelevant because I’m very simply not okay with it.

[bctt tweet=”To a lot of people this doesn’t make sense – how does one leave off part of their name?” username=”wearethetempest”]

Unfortunately, this nominal ambiguity I’m presenting here doesn’t mean that I can escape the reality in the outside world. I can be A’idah in one setting and something else two seconds later when my mom or an old friend walks into the room. This is totally fluid and not a binary use-or-don’t-use case.

In fact, I wish it was more simple.

[bctt tweet=”The name that others call me switches me between different lives.” username=”wearethetempest”]

At 14, I chose A’idah as my Islamic name. I knew that I would have to wait until transitioning into using it full-time, because changing your name isn’t one of the typical freshman-to-sophomore year glo ups.

I first made the switch over to A’idah when I started college. In short, it’s been great. There’ve been strange moments, though. When applying for a library card, which name do you use? How about at a new doctor’s office? (PSA: use your legal name or else your insurance won’t work properly.) And there are times when people find out that you have a different legal name and get really excited, thinking it’s a good way to make a joke. In some cases it’s funny –  in others, it’s not. Especially when you’ve had to work so hard over the course of years just to get people to call you a name you like.

[bctt tweet=”Self-policing can make you end up with 3 different identities to juggle.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I thought it would be a before-and-after situation where I’d be able to make absolute minimal contact with this former name of mine, but somehow both survive simultaneously. Quite reasonably, it’s hard for your friends who’ve known you for years as one name to just seamlessly transition into using another. The logic of that doesn’t change the cringe that you feel when someone calls you by a name you hate, though. Your family is usually the most stubborn (especially if you’re moving away from a name that they chose for you). And sometimes people have good intentions, but in conjunction with bad memories they tend to slip up (we appreciate your effort, though).

[bctt tweet=”Call me Jane and you’re really throwing me off, because you better be my mother.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The effects of all these different sides piling together tend to result in a divergence of who you are as a person. If someone calls me A’idah, I hold myself to different expectations than when they call me Mary. Call me Jane and you’re really throwing me off, because you better be my mother. Call me MaryJane and I’ll automatically get a little hostile and defensive because I feel like I have a more personal identity to protect. Even though all of these names are perfectly valid and don’t incite the same judgments upon someone new that I meet who, let’s say, is named MaryJane, each one fits me differently. And quite frankly, some don’t fit at all.

The combination of all these factors and situations of self-policing can lead to you ending up like me – 18 years old with 3 different identities to juggle.