What’s in a name?

Hello-my-name-isOne 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”.

2 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful read Luna. I have had an interesting time balancing your two names I must confess. I’m sure I have used the wrong one in the wrong context more than once! I feel like our relationship is a bit different in each of the two roles too. So fascinating, I must give this many more thinkings.

    It’s interesting how much power is in a name. Mine has been a source of joy and frustration for as long as I can remember. I have hated it for it’s complexity, ridiculous spelling, and similarity to sesame, Sicily, tsunami, and (my personal favourite) cess pit. I have loved it for being lyrical, unique, and elegant. I have hated it for marking me out as different before I even open my mouth and loved it for the effortless connection with my Polish roots and family. For a long time I used a different name and wanted to change it. I, too, never took in the forms. Maybe that’s the subconscious interfering haha. These days I have no hate or anger and am happy and proud to wear it around.

    When I married I changed my surname. We both did. We chose a new name together. I have never regretted this. My maiden name was heavy and bound up with things much bigger than me. Wars and silences and intergenerational trauma. Things I felt the echoes of but knew nobody would explain. It was nice to put that aside and build a new foundation with the person I loved. This has only deepened since we grew our family.

    Our working personas are powerful too. I have felt this a lot since I went into clinical practice. There is this archetype that is the clinical me. And she stands for what mental health clinicians think and believe and endorse. How they respond to things, and how they behave, and how they make you feel. Unfortunately, there is no space between her and me. I didn’t know to expect this. There are times I wish I had a different name or could wear a different face for a while. Especially in these the days of social media and camera phones and viral news. There are parts of me that don’t fit into her archetype. Anger and selfishness, fatigue, rudeness, judgment, cruel black humour, off colour comments, rejection, disinterest, silliness, weirdness. Where can I go when I want to do these things and be safe? Where I won’t accidentally smear this other me that I need to be (and enjoy being and respect) when I am working? I don’t know. I think this is one of the reasons I have loved dancing, it gives me a chance to be silly and creative and spontaneous. I don’t really get to do that anymore. I am naturally quite a harsh and unusual character, I suppose that doesn’t help.

    Such an interesting post! I’m really looking forward to your next installment.
    CY

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Cecily! It’s so lovely and honest and thoughtful. I too think we have a different relationship in the different environments we inhabit, which I think is true of anyone. I love what you have said about being the clinical archetype. That must be so hard sometimes when you are connecting with people but also ahem to have that wall up. I also love that you both changed your surnames! I really wanted to do that but J wasn’t keen, which is ok. What a wonderful way to start your life and new family together after marriage. Talk soon! ❤

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