The Power of Words- Names

From the time we are born, sometimes even earlier, we are labeled. Labels are applied to us so that society knows how to interact with us. Most of the labels we are given are directly related to some trait we have- genitalia, skin color, ethnic origin, etc. There is one label that is chosen for us, and has great value, our name. Our name is the beginning of our personal brand and our feelings about our name are shaped by how others use it.  

Some names naturally evolve with nicknames, like Elizabeth becomes Beth, while others are shed and new ones adopted. When people make the choice to adopt a new name there is a reason behind it. No longer using a previous name comes with consequences and yet the rewards greater leading to a willingness and continued desire to change.  

Some people chose a new name so that they feel more accepted. This often happens in conjunction with major life changes such as immigrating to a new country to escape poverty and or discrimination. Others select a new name in order to separate from thoughts and feelings associated with their old, birth name. This can be seen with individuals who have decided to live a life more congruent with their true self and or those who have survived abuse. Imagine you spend years hearing your name in combination with demeaning remarks, “NAME you idiot”, “NAME is such a failure”, “NAME you’re worthless”. Over time this combination of name and remarks begins to feel like a definition. By letting go of this name the person can also begin to let go of this maladapted belief that they are those definitions. This is also seen in people whose gender does not align with their birth name. We place so much weight on societal expectations regarding gender that having a name incongruent with our gender can lead to some rather uncomfortable encounters as well. And there are some who choose a name in order to escape from their abusers. These people frequently up root their entire lives and relocate so that they feel safe. 

When you use a name that has been shed you are saying that the experiences related to that name are not valid. You may not, and hopefully do not, use someone’s old name (birth name, deadname, shed name, etc.) with malicious intent. However, using this name can be triggering for some people and bring up maladaptive thoughts and feelings.  

Names are incredibly important to us. Learning how to say other’s names and respecting their name, rather given at birth or chosen as the result of adversity is a simple way to be a better human.  


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