What’s in a name?

Prefatory note: This post started as a short, cute anecdote about nicknames. But the mysterious paths in my brain led me, by the end of it, to an entirely different place than I expected. It rambles a bit, so I hope you don’t get too lost on the way.


As you can tell from earlier posts, identity, defining it and living it authentically, is on my mind, running very close to the surface all the time. I’ve no idea why, can’t pinpoint the exact day or time it started. As someone once said (in a movie, I think), it seems I was in the middle before I knew I had begun!

There’s so much to think about, explore, embrace in the umbrella of identity. One of the key facets of it is the fact that we each get to define our own. But, for me personally, it’s in the acceptance of my identity choices by people who are important to me that identity solidifies and becomes real.

Very central to this is the idea of belonging. Identity and belonging are two sides of the same coin. Feeling as if you belong in a place, a group, a label, is essential to wearing any identity. Belonging transforms that conscious choice if claiming an identity into reality more thoroughly than any single marker of identity can. Anyone can put on “drag”, the trappings of any given identity. But only when you feel confident in your belonging there, when you know, not just hope, that you are in the right place, do you step into belonging.

One sure way of knowing you belong in a physical place is by looking at the the keys you carry for that place, whether a metal key, a plastic card, or some other token of access. When you have the freedom to come and go in a physical space by virtue of the access or keys you carry, you know you belong there.

The same thing applies to people. I think of names as keys. When you are given a person’s name and invited to use it, you belong there, with them, in their space. It’s a privilege. This is especially true with nicknames, diminutives, endearments. The familiarity required to bestow and use a nickname or endearment for someone is like having a key to that person’s inner self. A friend described it as “an acknowledgement that you see someone well enough to pick up on a foible or trait and turn it into an endearment.”

Telling the story about my grandfather the other day, remembering just how he talked and all the quirky phrases he used to describe or refer to people, really got me to thinking about this. Names and labels are such powerful things. Beyond the meaning of the words themselves (which is often profound in itself), the wealth of emotion, context and sense of belonging that surrounds each name or phrase is astounding. I’m often delighted by the sense of rightness that comes with an aptly placed name.

Is there any greater warm-fuzzy than when the right person calls you by a certain name, uses a special endearment reserved just for you? Is there any more awkward, uncomfortable feeling than when someone presumes to use a diminutive or familiar form of your name without your invitation, or uses it in the wrong setting setting?

All this rambling is just to say this: “I’m gay.” I choose to own that truth that chose me. It’s not a name or endearment, and is a label only in the sense that the phrase is a verbal construct that is convenient to describe a very important facet of myself. But gay is so much more than that! It’s my identity. I belong here. It’s not a hope, aspiration, fear or dreaded surprise. Not anymore. I know it. I own it. For me, this acknowledgement inside myself is an essential first step to making it true in the whole of my life.

I’m not done. There’s all the work in the world left to do: coming out in real life, stepping into authenticity, living it the rest of my days. But the key to that future is this acknowledgement inside myself today.


3 comments so far

  1. MakingSpace on

    Beautiful. And you’re already out to the most important person – yourself.

  2. theowlsmoonsoulsupport on

    Self relationship is integral to inner growth, and part of that expansion is about stepping outside of the confines of what we think we know about ourselves and each other.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Welcome! Thanks so much for your comment. Thought provoking and challenging. Finding a way to step away from preconceived ideas is the pursuit of a lifetime. Thanks for making me think.

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