What is in a name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said the famous Shakespeare.  That statement makes you think; if someone calls you by another name that is not yours, does it make you someone else inherently or do you remain the same? Why then do people take such great offence when their names are misspelt and go to great lengths to say it right so that the right pronunciation is made? There is something about that prized possession, your name.

Among the first things that a child learns in nursery to read and write is their name. But what if that child cannot hear their name or write it because of hearing impairment and they cannot write it because they have not been able to go to school to learn how to write?  What is the concept of a name in their minds, because they may not easily understand the name concept since they cannot hear themselves being referred to as so and so.

In some parts of the world, like Indonesia, a person is only given one name. This is usually because of the inappropriate associations that may be conceived about that person based on their surname or family name. Take for instance a Javanese Indonesian woman called Alice who shares her highly unique experience about the strange reception of having one name; “‘Alice...?’ countless immigration officers have said as they eyed me suspiciously after opening my passport. My name always has a way of just hanging there in awkward silence for a bit. Then I hear it again. ‘Alice what?’ ‘Just Alice’, I reply.”

In other cultures, it is easier to abbreviate your first or given name and then write the initials of those first two names, for example, M.T. Kamanzi. That person is always called by their surname because one of their names may be difficult to pronounce or may give away their identity, class in society or position of order of birth.

Yet still in other societies, interestingly, women lose their whole name when they get married and become ‘the wife of so and so’. Despite the different approaches to naming, we all end up having one or two or three because for a society to function, basically there is need to identify one person from another. Getting a name may be the easiest part, keeping a good name is not that easy, or is it? 

* The Uniquely Indonesian Pains of Having Only One Name by Alice.