The author considers why a friend of hers has changed her name drastically for social acceptance.
A few months ago, I encountered an old acquaintance and was surprised to find out that she no longer carried her first name that I used to know her by. The change was so drastic it was like changing your name to Sara after being known as Eponine (one of Les Misérables’ characters) all your life. This wasn’t a case of having an actor’s stage name, but a regular human being with a regular career.
Changing a name so drastically isn’t something I have come across much. Initially, I wondered how will she manage to change her name on every form of identity she owned. But then I wondered about the motive behind this behavior. When I asked, she honestly responded that after a lot of introspection, she chose a different name that was more ‘socially’ acceptable. It seems she was convinced that a more generic name that masked an ethnicity would break down many barriers to her success and progress.
It was interesting to me that she was bothered by an issue so deeply, which others might consider trivial.
Her reasoning triggered my judgments and made me think of my name, what it meant to me and how it related with my personality. My name is Shurooq, which is an Arabic name that means sunrise, and it is my identity everywhere I go. I love it, I am proud of it, and I humorously joke to everyone that I bring the sunshine wherever I go. Would I ever want to change it? No. I was content with it because I considered it a gift from my parents.
However, my friend was obviously dissatisfied enough to have taken such a decision. But do our names affect our lives more than we realize? It appears so. According to Richard Wiseman, “people with names that have positive associations such as ‘Rose’ do especially well in life”*. Even at schools, “students whose names have undesirable associations experience high levels of social isolation” *.
This made sense to me. I remember how as children we would undermine others with ‘different’ names. Some of those silly nicknames we gave stayed until adulthood. No wonder my friend was discontented with her name.
Considering all of the above, I believe all parents should think twice before choosing a name for their babies. I considered ancestry and named my son Mohamed after his grandfather in the hope that he takes after him and grows up to be a kind, wise humanitarian. I wonder how my friend’s parents chose her birth name. After long discussions, I came to understand that my friend’s name change was not about giving up her identity but more about forging and developing it. Therefore, I hope it brings her the satisfaction she craves.
Now tell me, if you could change your name, what name would you choose? Or would you keep the name that has identified you so far?
Shurooq, an Emarati from Dubai, has been on a journey of self-discovery ever since she shifted career from Science to humanitarian where she found joy. Her interests include traveling and foreign films. Shurooq’s column is influenced by those distinctive moments that give a deeper perspective on life.