What’s in a name?

Names are a bit weird, aren’t they? They make up such a huge part of our identity, yet, in most cases, we get pretty much no say in the matter. Our names are sometimes picked out for us before we’re even born – before we’re even conceived, in some cases – and it seems to be pretty much pot luck as to whether or not your name fits your personality.

In spite of this, in spite of the fact there’s absolutely no way of knowing how someone will turn out as an adult, people are hugely resistant to the smallest of changes to one’s own name – even down to the nickname. I still remember the expression of absolute disbelief and defiance on my grandfather’s face, as he said, with the most over-exaggerated shock in his voice, when I, a mature, grown up twelve-year-old, decided I wanted to be ‘Liz’ instead of ‘Lizzie’: “no… Lizzie!”. And, to this day, he’ll write Liz in cards, but will always call me Lizzie to my face.

As most people who follow me on social media are probably aware of by now, I’ve recently decided that I’m no longer going by ‘Liz’ or ‘Lizzy’, and am instead going by ‘Zara’. The reason being, if one needs to be given, is that I’ve never felt those names suited me. I’ve been known as ‘Lizzie’ since birth, and only changed it to ‘Liz’ when I decided the former was too childish. I’ve never liked ‘Liz’ that much, either, but I was twelve when I made that decision. ‘Zara’ is such a beautiful name (and can come from Elizabeth – ‘EliZAbeth’, ‘ZAra’), and I really feel that it’s a name that suits me. People have already used it to address me, and it fits.

My friends, and most of my family, have been kind, but I do worry about the response. Apparently, despite it being my name, my deciding that I’d like to be known as something else can be seen as an inconvenience. I know my aforementioned grandparents will be calling me ‘Lizzie’ until the day one of us dies – not because they can’t remember what I’d like to be called, but because they choose not to. A visit to them reminds me that I only have so much power over my own identity. (My nan, on my mum’s side, I will cut some slack; she’s terminally ill and has other things on her mind, like making sure she has enough oxygen.)

With that in mind, I’d like to ask you all, no matter what the reason may be, to respect your friends and family when they decide to change their name or nickname. Their name is theirs, and not yours to dictate. A name is so important and it should fit its bearer. Why else do you think novelists spend so much time picking names for their characters?

As for all of you who’ve been wanting to try out a new name, do it. Just do it. People who matter will accept it. Occasional forgetfulness, especially in the early stages, is okay. “I’m going to keep calling you (x), because I’ve always known you as (x)”, is lazy, dismissive, and downright disrespectful.