I’ve written before about how feminist debates about women changing their names to their husbands’ leave me out in the cold. As surnames weren’t traditional in my culture until some Europeans decided we should fit into their economic structures and social norms, I really resent the idea that any kind of decision I make with a surname has any social justice value on this score. If I were to marry a man and take his surname, that would have about the same value to me as keeping my birth surname would have done. I don’t think that maintaining an artificially assigned and patrilineal surname would have been a particularly feminist act for me. As it happens, I’ve changed my surname in a manner quite unconnected with marriage, and, while I’m happier, I don’t see any feminist victory in any action I could take here.
I have been reading a post by Siderea B. on the Google Plus requirement that users display their “real” names.
There are peoples with the US and without among whom it is culturally normative to use different names with different social spheres. Whether it is bicultural people with both English names and names in another language (e.g. “Hebrew name”, “African name”, “Chinese name”), or artists with pen names/stage names, or even just those of us Scadians who are called something very different by our friends and lovers than by our families and neighbors, there are many subcultures with the US — to say nothing of the rest of the world — in which people do not have only one name and/or may have object to being expected to divulge such privileged information as their personal name online.
The very idea that one has one, real name is a parochial White, middle-class, American assumption. The idea one should have one, real name, to make everything all neat and tidy and obvious is colonialist thinking.
How is a real name different from a legal one, and why should there just be one? I use different names in social, legal, familial, and cultural settings. They have various levels of reality attached for me, but they’re all used and mine.
I think it’s interesting that there is such a block to multiple names in the West, because it’s partly the West that has made them necessary. You take on an English name in addition to your cultural one in order to be more palatable.
I also find it hard to relate to the idea of having just one true name because of how I see that play out in practice. If you change your name, even legally, then often people will still treat your old name as your “real” one – unless you are a lady who got married to a man, of course, and then your surname is your husband’s, irrespective of whether you actually took his or not.
Perhaps your blog name, or your Chinese name, or your nickname is as valuable to you as or more valuable to you than your legal name. I find that to let myself be pinned to just one name, with a first name (middlename(s)) surname structure, would be to disavow a lot of my existence. Who I am has changed throughout time, and I like that the changes in my legal names, nicknames, Internet pseuds (although clearly I’m not using one at present!), and so forth reflects that.