This is followed from my introduction. You might want to read that first. If you have already, read on!
Who are you? Is your name who you are? It’s true that it makes up part of your identity, and those that have been dehumanized are often stripped of their name first. Sometimes when people strive for anonymity, such as in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, they will use an assumed name. The narrator calls himself Charlie, but makes it clear that he is not revealing his real name because “you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me.” (Chbosky, 2) He chooses to remain anonymous- he could be anybody.
Alice, after arriving in Wonderland feels that things aren’t quite right once she begins questioning who she is. “‘If I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle! And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them. ‘I’m sure I’m not Ada…for her hair goes in such long ringlets and mine doesn’t…; and I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things and she, oh she knows such a very little! Besides. she’s she, and I’m I, and- oh dear, how puzzling it all is!” (Carroll, 10) She sees other’s names as their identities: their physical appearance is what makes them who they are, as well as their intelligence. Her name would no longer suit her if she were to change in her appearance, personality, or intelligence. When she finds that she is unable to recite her lessons, she decides that “I must be Mabel after all, and I shall have to go and live in that poky little house, and have next to no toys to play with, and oh, ever so many lessons to learn! No, I’ve made up my mind about it: If I’m Mabel, I’ll stay down here!” (Carroll, 11) Part of the upsetting experience of being in Wonderland comes from the fact that she no longer feels like herself. She thinks of herself as other people, and is called several different things in Wonderland- such as “Mary Anne”- being the White Rabbit’s servant.
Cordelia from King Lear(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anne also imagines being someone else, but it is a positive thing for her. She asks the Cuthberts to “please call me Cordelia?” (Montgomery, 24) and explains that “I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name…Please do call me Cordelia…Anne is such an unromantic name…I’m not ashamed of it…only I like Cordelia better. I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia.” (Montgomery, 24-25) Cordelia is an allusion to the character in King Lear, King Lear’s youngest daughter who is out of favour with her father when she cannot prove her love for him in an exaggerated way as her two sisters do. Nevertheless, she is accepted by the King of France for a bride, despite her disinheritance. “Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor; Most choice forsaken, and most loved, despised, thee and thy virtues here I seize upon, Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away. Gods, gods! ‘Tis strange that from their cold’st neglect my love should kindle to inflamed respect- thy dowerless daughter, King, thrown to my chance, is queen of us, of ours and our fair France. Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy can buy this unprized precious maid of me.— Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind. Thou losest here, a better where to find.” (Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 290-303) Cordelia is accepted even though she has no value. Anne wants the same thing; she wants to be accepted by Marilla and Matthew even though she is not a boy- she wants to be a “Cordelia” to Green Gables.
Names are chosen by parents when a child is born. In Bud Not Buddy, Bud remembers his mother telling him “Bud is your name and don’t you let anyone call you anything outside of that either…Especially don’t you ever let anyone call you Buddy…I would’ve added that dy onto the end of your name if I intended for it to be there. I knew what I was doing. Buddy is a dog’s name or a name that someone’s going to use on you if they’re being false-friendly. Your name is Bud, period.” (Curtis, 41) It may be that your name is given to you because it holds some meaning to the family, or maybe the name was the only one that could be agreed upon by the family.
Something that sent me into giggles at my brother’s “grandparents day” thing, aside from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was the fact that I had to wear this name tag they made for me. Couldn’t I just introduce myself? And I doubted I would be socializing with anybody there I didn’t know- I decided to keep it anyway, just in case my parents forgot my name after knowing it for twenty years.
However- what does it mean for you? The individual carrying the name? You often have some control over your name, you could ask to be called by a nickname, or your middle name (if you even have one) or go to court to get your name legally changed. This step, the taking control of the name is a move towards independence. The book Becoming Ruby is about this process. While drinking cream soda, the narrator notices that “the clear red drink…looks like a giant ruby. My name-Ruby. I slide the cold bottle down my hot face. Mom didn’t want me to be Ruby, Dad did; it was his grandmother’s name and he liked it. And since Gary’s middle name was given to honour some relation of hers, Mom could hardly argue. Nan Ruby Larkin had lousy rhythm, so I ended up Ruby Nan Larkin. But called Nan.” (Stinson, 26) Ruby not only has no control over her name but it is known that her mother has complete control. So, naturally when Ruby seeks to find her individuality she stands up and tells her mother firmly, “Nan is your little girl, so smart she could read before kindergarten. Nan is the little girl who never complained when you bought her ugly clothes. She drank Orange Crush and wanted to be a teacher because she knew it would make you happy. But it didn’t, and I can tell you now that nothing I ever do will. And… My name is Ruby. Ruby, Mother! Get it? My name is… Ruby.” (Stinson, 161) It is more than a name; it has become a personality of sorts. The first step towards independence for her is the shedding of Nan, (much like a snake sheds its skin) to reveal Ruby, an individual who knows herself.
Screenshot from The Magician (Edison Mfg. Co, 1900) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Names are also supposed to hold meaning. Baby name books are a huge thing for new parents. These books give off the idea that the name a child is given will define them. Baby names added with the meaning of those names given in baby books just put expectations on babies before they’re even born. I looked under my name for example, and it says “fair haired.” I’m anything but fair haired- and to have a “meaning” which is just focussed on physicality is really damaging. The belief that girls are supposed to be focussed on their appearance is introduced from the time they are born. Names have very gender-specific meanings, they can rely heavily on religious references, and as we grow; we may find that the name we were given doesn’t really suit us. Our names do not tell us who we are. Our names are a way of identifying us as a person, but they in no way shape our personality, our behaviour, our thought processes, or anything else. So why do we place so much value on the name of people? Why do these baby books even exist? Why did meaning for names have to be created? It’s problematic that names label people with personalities or physical attributes before they’ve even had a chance to grow or speak. Then again, can you imagine yourself with any other name? Maybe a name is magical, but it’s a bit of a problem when we’re not the magicians.
IMAGES: (In order of appearance. Everything else in alphabetical order)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower Official Trailer #1 (2012)-Emma Watson Movie HD Prod. movieclipsTRAILERS Youtube. Youtube. 4 June. 2012 Web. 14 June 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5rh7O4IDc0
- Carroll, Lewis Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006
- Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Pocket Books. 1999.
- Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud Not Buddy. New York: Yearling, 1999
- Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. [Toronto]: Seal, 1996.
- Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. Print.
- Stinson, Kathy. Becoming Ruby. Toronto: Penguin. 2003. Print.
- Berry, James “Isn’t my name Magical?” Web. Children’s Poetry Archive. 2004
- JennPower. “Who are you? An Introduction.” Web log post. It’s All Kid’s Stuff. WordPress, 12 May. 2013. Web. 14 June. 2013.