One day this creepy guy rocked up at our front door. He had seen my Mum perform some bellydancing, decided he wanted to see her again, looked up our address in the phone book and knocked on the door. Completely freaked out by this creeper, she adopted the pseudonym “Zalika” which had the double bonus of making her seem fancy and protecting her identity. She encouraged my sister and I when we were kids to adopt stage names as well. I browsed through some belly dance magazines and some books on middle eastern culture to see if any names jumped out at me. My first choice was “Semen”. My mum, bless her, gently encouraged me to choose another, and somehow I settled on Luna. (I just typed “Semen middle eastern” into Google to ascertain it’s meaning. This was a poor choice of search terms).
I was around 8 or so when I picked this name, and it soon replaced my given name. We practically lived at the studio and so whenever I would meet new students I would always be introduced as Luna. I loved having this second name. It was like having a secret identity. As I grew older I became more and more involved in the studio until I was teaching almost every night of the week. I started swing dancing and burlesque, using this name in those worlds. My entire identity was wrapped up in the name Luna: teacher, performer, dancer. I eventually got into the habit of using it for everything from my online identities to ordering coffee. Only a small handful of people knew me by my given name, mainly family, doctors, and some friends from school.
If I allude to the fact that Luna is a nickname whenever meeting someone new, they inevitably ask what my real name is. Often they persist and persist and persist past the point of awkwardness. I find this incredibly rude and intrusive. If someone introduces themselves as Tom you don’t start hounding them to find out of their name is Thomas. A few people have even gone so far as to find out my given name and start using it when I have specifically introduced myself as Luna. As if to say “ you can’t fool me, I know who you really are”. It got to the point where I starting telling people that it was my middle name just to get them off my case. I almost legally changed it, but I never ended up taking in the forms. As my job became more and more performative, teaching classes to hundreds of people a month and performing almost every weekend, my stage name became a wall that I could put up between myself and that life. My given name was a safe place I could retreat into once I’d washed the makeup off and pulled my pyjamas on. It allowed some space between the persona I had created for my career and the “real me”. As my performing career expanded that space began to feel smaller and smaller until the name Luna began to feel like too many layers of clothing when the sun is out. Stifling. I became depressed and withdrew into my given name and all that it entailed: home, privacy, comfort.
It was time to make some significant changes. I quit a huge portion of my job. I started making time for pursuits unrelated to dance and performance. I asked family members and friends who had met me as Luna or who had gotten into the habit of calling me Luna to call me by my given name again. Slowly I started to feel like myself again. Names are important because they connect us to our families, to where we are from and to our culture. They are one of the first ways we present ourselves to the world. “Hello world! You can call me…”. Reclaiming my name helped me return to myself when I had become lost. Clearly, I still use the name Luna quite a lot, but it doesn’t have the same heaviness to it. I’m not as touchy about people knowing my real name as I used to be, but I still enjoy having the distinction between my private life and my public life. I like being able to come home and log out of “Luna”. It’s nice to pick up the phone and call my parents or my sister and to be able to say “It’s me, Tiffany”.