Thursday, September 14, 2006

a rose is a rose

I used to work with a man called F.

Yes, F.

Not Fred or Farrell or Fartface. Just plain F.

That's right. He goes by a letter.

It was a source of some consternation among our co-workers. One man even refused to call F "F" and insisted on addressing him as "Frank." F responded by sending an email to the entire tech writing department stating that he would not respond, under any circumstances, to any other name except F. He had another name, he'd explained, but he chose to go by something else and he expected other people to honor that.

And I say, "Bravo, F! Bravo."

I'm serious.


I repeat: "Bravo, F."

Is your lip curling? Have you scrinched your face? Are you taken aback? I mean, literally, has your head cocked back a few centimeters as if in response to some stench wafting under your nose?

Shakespeare says "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But, apparently, that's not the case for poor F. Apparently, he (metaphorically) stinks. If we heard his name was Foster or Franklin, we might giggle and mime at adjusting a monocle or we might imagine him in an ascot and smoking jacket, but we wouldn't sneer.

Why do we sneer?

It is odd, I'll admit, to be called by a letter. It doesn't comply with our standard naming conventions. (Although, it is not unheard of. My ex's uncle was named RE. No periods.)

It doesn't even fit with our normal nicknaming conventions. (And yet I knew a kid in high school called T and my nephew's nickname is E.)

But why is this name of his - this F - met with such universal disgust? Maybe this particular letter is problematic. Even if it didn't inaugurate and sometimes substitute for one of our most foul curses, it is just an ugly sound.


In fact, just saying it kinda makes you sneer.

It sounds reasonable to say that this particular letter is the problem but it just isn't true. The fact is that people get weird about unusual names. Especially unusual names with which the namee has christened him or herself.

A few years ago, a friend decided to go by her middle name. Multiple people in her family refused to call her by this name. One acquaintance told her that the act of rearranging her name at the age of 29 was insane.



Why? Seriously.

Why the faces? Why the disgust? Why call it insanity?

For the longest time, it didn't make any sense to me but now I think I understand.

For most of our lives, we are named by other people. Our parents give us our initial names. Friends or siblings give us nicknames. Lovers give us pet names. Later on, depending on personal preference - and nothing else nowadays, thank goodness! - a spouse gives us yet another name.

It is a rule. Somebody else names you. You're not supposed to name yourself.

Isn't that strange?

We behave as if fully grown persons who can feed and cloth themselves, not to mention express and act on their personal preferences almost every moment of the waking day, are not allowed to choose their own names. Does that make any sense at all?

I have recently changed my name too, and without revealing either the hows or wherefores, I can tell you that most people will have a strong reaction to what I have done. This is a different sort of name change than the ones I talked about before. This is the big 'un. The one that follows closely on the white satin heels that trip lightly down the aisle at a wedding ceremony.

That's right. I took my husband's name. Do not applaud me. I'm no traditionalist. Do not denounce me. I'm no traitor to the feminist cause.

Or, you know, actually ... whatever.

Do you what you like to me. I don't care. I don't have to justify my choice to you or anyone else. I don't owe you an explanation. I don't have to provide you with a good reason. I don't even have to have a good reason, anymore than F does.

I wanted to write something profound about identity and labels but, you know what? Fuck it.

I like what Arthur Freed has to say on the subject:

A Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is
A rose is what Moses supposes his toes is
Couldn't be a lily or a daphi daphi dilli
It's gotta be a rose cuz it rhymes with mose!

Thankfully, the modern world is already behind me on this. On the internet, you and I can call ourselves whatever we choose and nobody balks. Or asks for an explanation.


Blogger matt said...

I was thinking of taking Angela's last name for a little while, because 'Matt Webb' sounds like some sort of really cool private eye. But seeing that about 50% of my friends refer to me as "mattkane" it seems like the change would be pointless.

I let Angela choose what she wanted to do, she chose to use Kane. It makes her initials A.S.K. which is pretty cool.

9:59 AM


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