Friday, February 2

My name, my self

Identity has been on my mind a lot lately, and a few days ago I rambled on about how I came to choose Waspgoddess as my nom de plume, but in all honesty what I am in real, urgent need of is a permanent name change. When my parents chose the previously mentioned ancient Nordic name they clearly did not expect me to go very far, literally. My name contains one particular letter that only exists in [some of] the Scandinavian languages, which means that since leaving the shores of my homeland almost 20 years ago, not only has no one been able to pronounce my name without a tutorial, they can’t even spell it. In fact, most of the time, unless they meet me they have no clue as to my sex either. And it’s not just my first name; my surname, despite its lack of odd letters and characters, is long and, in the eyes and ears of the natives of my new homeland, unwieldy.

It’s frustrating and occasionally quite upsetting when friends continue to misspell my name simply because one of the letters doesn’t exist in the English language. Really I think it’s down to laziness, and to some extent also ignorance. But sometimes it comes across as a lack of caring.

In my professional life I have to regularly deal with the press, and it has become something of a sport to check out what new and unusual spellings different journalists manage to come up with. A few weeks ago I was thrilled when one of the broadsheets (read a v important one) spelled my first name correctly (they did misspell my surname, but I was ecstatic nevertheless).

After all, your name and your identity are intimately linked. You become your name and your name becomes you. And so I wonder what nearly 20 years of constant mispronunciations, misspellings and mistakes about my gender has done to my sense of self? Maybe a new name would actually bring me home? At least it would allow me to stop wasting so much time and energy feeling upset when friends misspell my name on birthday cards, or consoling business contacts when they feel embarrassed for the inevitable mispronunciation (only for them to go ahead and do it again two minutes later).

So I’ve been playing around with several different names. It’s been a lot of fun, but it has made me think about what my own name really means to me, what it says about who I am and where I'm from, and I’m not sure what a new name, and essentially a new identity, would do to my 37 year-old self -- it may just confuse me too much. So for the time being I am Nina M only when I book tables in restaurants, order taxis and sign up for freebies.

Incidentally, the post just arrived with a letter addressed to Nina M inviting me/her to a free makeover. Fits perfectly really; my alias can be that sophisticated, perfectly coiffed woman the real me tries to be but can never quite manage to sustain.

This entry was inspired by a post by one of my favourite bloggers, La Cubana Gringa (check her out, she’s outrageously hilarious).

Photo by Ron


Sharon said...

You gals are such good writers. I think I was directed to the Cubana Gringa from your blog and I agree she is *mad*...but in a good and very interesting way.
I enjoy reading your posts. sister changed her name to Skye. Just wanted to own her identity.

Annika said...

One of the biggest shocks for me after getting married was how long it took before I could identify with my new surname. To top it off, my new surname sounds more German than Swedish and I always have to spell it out for everybody. If I could go back and do it all over again, I think I'd keep my maiden name.

Waspgoddess said...

Sharon: thank you for your kind words :)

Annika: I was married a long time ago, and that really screwed up my sense of identity too, especially when my new mother-in-law sent a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs James Sims. It was like, hello, what about me? Do I not even have a first name anymore?

No wonder I got divorced ;)

La Cubana Gringa said...

It's such an interesting question you raise about name/identity. People often misspell both my first and last name (neither of which is particularly complicated) OR, as recently discovered, they give me a new name entirely! My name is so ME after 29 years, though, that I don't know that I could change it. (Though I do consider bringing a broom around with me to beat people about the head when they screw it up!)

Anyway, your situation is a bit different (what, with the rare letter). So I understand why you're toying with the idea of change. Just consider that even if you change the name to something simple, people STILL might misspell it or replace it entirely! :)

PS - Thanks for the link & the vote of confidence! So fun to have blogger friends!

Judith in Umbria said...

I propose your new name should be Venetia, molto inglese ma reflettente del suo passione, no?

GeL(Emerald Eyes) said...

Excellent post. Even if your names were not so difficult to spell or pronounce, the importance of self-esteem would still pervade.

I grew up with both names that were constantly misspelled. My maiden name was often transformed, sometimes as a joke, other times due to reasons such as laziness, that you cited here. I think many people are far too blase (can't make the accent mark), about how deeply this affects one's inner feelings.

Subsquently, I thought I chose names for my daughters that would lessen the spelling impact dilemma. Well, enter the world of typos and habits. Both names have consistently been misspelled and mispronounced for awards, minor press releases, and so much so our older daughter half-kids that her gender was changed for 7 years of her schooling.

Mine is consistenly mispelled even though I'm an artist in a world with other (suposedly) visual people who should pay closer attention to spelling! This occurs even if I feel out a form for a show and gently highlight, the spelling of my name.

I also toyed with changing mine to a nickname I made up. I was all set to go until I googled the nickname and discovered that the reason my madeup nickname wasn't used, was due to a horrid and misfortunate historical reference. I could no longer think of it as "springy" after reading this poor famous woman's devastating background.

Bottomline: If you feel comfortable changing your name, go for it. If it is bothering you, as it seems here, it sounds important to your inner core, way down deep, to retain *your* name. It's yours and no one elses. Others may have fleetingly taken away the spelling or pronounciation, but they did not banish it. To adopt a new name would eradiate your old one. How comfortable you would feel with that fact is the key.

GEL said...

I forgot to add that the rare letter in your name adds a special uniqueness. I don't know you, but it seems you would miss that. I would.

Waspgoddess said...

Thanks for all your feedback, it's been really interesting to read your views on this whole identity thing.

And Judith, thanks the comment, which despite my baby Italian I think I managed to translate.