I think about naming a lot, and name as identity, and naming as power. Today I want to talk about my names, and legitimacy.
Chally was not my given name. I took it. I was given two first names at birth, my real one – my cultural one – and what I call my English one (it’s not actually of English origin, I just call it that because it’s used when I’m in English-speaking society). Chally is short for my real name, and I adopted this nickname in high school (my English name is not very nicknameable). At the time, I was beginning to develop a difficult relationship with my English name because of the really quite horrible circumstances under which I received it. I love Chally, I identify with it, it is me.
So, I decided to use it when I started a blog. When I first started to meet blogosphere people offline, though, I immediately felt I had to tell them that ‘you can also call me [English name],’ because it’s easier to say a lot of the time and because I felt that it was somehow more real. Perhaps I just enjoy stabbing myself in the back. I like my English name, I identify with it, but I was constructing it as somehow more legitimate than Chally, which I chose, which I love.
Then I met ana australiana. For the first time, I didn’t reintroduce myself, and she didn’t ask if I had another name. It was liberating. I didn’t have to feel a sinking in my stomach when my silly urge to be “polite” or anxiety around people thinking I’m somehow a fake made me introduce myself twice, because the once was good enough. I got a warmth in my belly from her just using it naturally, where I’d been denied a name I was okay with – or denied it to myself – my whole life. Here was this one person in my offline life who didn’t know the other name, who wouldn’t automatically jump to it in her head or her speech. I could just be me. And while I felt furtive and sneaky for a while, it turned out to be okay. And I feel really good about this friendship.
And I began to realise I could do this with other people. I could even refuse to give my English name when they asked if Chally was my “real” name. Where people, knowing both names, often jump to my English name as more “legitimate,” I was opening up spaces for myself to be called Chally. Where I sometimes feel like I have two personas, my real one and the one playing at being assimilated into this culture I have to participate in, I get to feel like a real person now.
I have a difficult relationship with my English name, as I’ve said. I’m keeping it for legal purposes, because I want to play around with different ways of being, because I want to keep my culture separate from the one I have to participate in, and because I’ve heard Anglo Australians correctly pronounce the name Chally is short for on the first go perhaps twice and that gets really, really irritating. But in my life as I live it, I tend to switch between preferring one or the other, or have wanted a mixture, and for the last few months have generally wanted my friends to call me Chally.
Choosing a name is a powerful thing. In doing so, I get to escape the awfully sad circumstances, personal and racial, under which I was given my English name. For this purpose, and in this respect, the Internet has been a place where I have felt more respected, and in some ways more real, than anywhere else. Being called by the name I want and the name I chose is frought and difficult and freeing.