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The Effects of Changing Your Name

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Growing up, she wore her name as a badge of honor, having been named after her mother's sister who had passed away, suddenly, at the age of 16 from brain cancer.

However, although Michelle Brown had always treasured her name, it also hung heavily around her neck. She felt a sense of obligation and a responsibility to live up to the memory of her mother's beloved sister throughout her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

But, as they say, you can't choose your relatives, or, for that matter, your name.

Or can you?

A struggle for identity suggested a name change for Michelle Brown.

And it's not uncommon. At some point, most of us have sought an alternate identity; a space to be free, unbranded by the nomenclature of our personal histories, our families, or our pasts before we're a blink of an eye.

Unlike my own sister, who went through a period where she changed her name at least three or four times, when I married, I wasn't yet willing to give up the identity I'd always known, but for Michelle, as well as my own sister, Stephanie, they embraced the opportunity. In fact, they sought it. Shackled by the history of names they didn't choose or trapped by an identity they wanted to shed, they sought to re-define themselves. And, in many ways, it was something of an adventure.

So why are some people eager to change their names, while others, like myself, are keen to hold onto who we are? It's difficult to say.

However, in Psychology Today, Dr. Elisabeth Waugaman notes that in the Native American naming tradition, names are, in fact, intended to change. "Children receive names that are descriptive, they may be given new names at adolescence, and again as they go through life according to what their life experiences and accomplishments are," she explains. The idea that names are fluid and based on both evolving behavior and experience brings another dimension to the idea that life -- and identity -- is anything but static.

Although there is certainly something exciting about the idea of shopping for a new name, I must admit, I felt a little guilty about abandoning my given name, even feeling as if I might be betraying my feminist roots a bit by blindly following a pattern of patriarchy that I've always sought to change, but for each person a name change holds a different meaning.

Once Michelle Brown overcame her own concerns, and settled on a name that she felt fit her, the name "Riegan Sage," she embarked on one of the most fascinating experiences of her life.

"I realized that we all tend to suffer from a form of semantic satiation, an autonym satiation, if you will, wherein we hear our names so frequently that the accompanying nuances are lost," Riegan Sage explains. "Dressed with a new name, I began to hear what people really thought of me just by the way my name was said. In some cases, my name was a tender caress from a friend who thought of me as trustworthy of secret keeping. Another time, it was a slap from an acquaintance who didn't think much of my opinion."

Interesting what a new name and a new set of ears might reveal about oneself, as well as the people around us.

Another fascinating detail was Riegan's ability to not just hear the impression she left on loved ones, but the impression she left on perfect strangers. She could hear a first impression as clearly as if it had been stated outright simply from the sound of her new name. Of course, after eight years with this name, she admits that she often falls back into taking it for granted, but when she thinks to listen clearly, it's amazing what she's able to hear.

How do you feel about changing your own name?

Are you nostalgic about what your name means to you or are you willing -- or eager -- to start an identity anew?

For more by Layla Revis, click here.

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