What’s in a name?

My name is Danielle. It’s the feminine form of the name Daniel. Daniel, for those interested in such things, is a Hebrew name meaning God is my judge. Anyone familiar with Dan’s story knows that back in the day he said a few things that people didn’t like and for his troubles hung out with some lions for a while, where he was, somewhat surprisingly, not eaten by them.

But lions or no – my name is Danielle, it looks similar to Daniel and yet is not the same. It’s also not Daniella, the far more exotic European version, just plain boring Danielle. Three Syllables Dan-e-elle.

For the last year or so I’ve had to repeatedly tell people  “actually it’s Danielle not Daniel”. Everyone has been doing it from the middle age white guy who’s building my house, to the technicians who come to do repairs on the library IT equipment, to, and somewhat unbelievably the woman who served me at the chemist.

In some of these circumstances it’s just laziness or carelessness. In people who speak English as a second language they probably haven’t seen the name before and are making their best approximation. Given the way I mangle non-English names I can entirely forgive the latter, but find it a lot harder to forgive the former.

What is more interesting is the look on people’s faces when they realise that no my name isn’t Daniel and I am in fact a woman doing IT in the library. It’s a look of surprise, often hastily smothered when they hear the words IT expert and then see me, unmistakably female, often in a fabulous dress. And yes it is as 25 kinds of awesome as it sounds being the IT expert and wearing a pretty dress.

But why all the fuss about my name – a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (finally working in some Shakespeare – bonus points). So I’m still essentially the same person regardless of what I get called.

Personally, I don’t think Mr Shakespeare got it quite right when he wrote Juliet’s famous soliloquy about what’s in a name. Although Juliet says that Romeo would still be her fella if he was called some other name, Romeo might feel differently. Romeo might essentially not be Romeo if he wasn’t called Romeo and was instead John. And if you can follow that congratulations, it’s my rather convoluted way of saying the name someone uses is important – it’s their first and perhaps most essential identifier.

There are countless instances throughout history where names or the removal of names have been used to deliberately dehumanise or stigmatise people. In another Shakespeare play – Merchant of Venice – Shylock is hardly ever referred to by his name rather he is called Jew. That is, he un-named and made other by the designation given to him rather than humanised by using his real name.

While I’m certainly not saying  being called name of the wrong gender is anything other than a bit annoying, the point is that names have power. And the name you call yourself (or rather your parents called you) has meaning.

Among my family I’m know as Dan or Auntie Dan to my nephews. These names come from a shared history, affection and understanding. From some people who I can’t be bothered correcting I get Dani (or Danny, Danni, Dannii) although this isn’t something I encourage, I’m not nor ever have been a Dani.

But in a professional context being called by the right name is important because of all the assumptions that come along with being called the wrong one. It’s an acknowledgment that it is possible for a woman to being working with technology and for the most part, being quite good at it. Yes, I have short hair but it is possible to have short hair and be female. (Honestly I could totally write a whole post on the ridiculousness of the whole women and short hair thing).

This  experience has been useful in understanding how important names are. And how my identity as a female, sister, daughter, auntie, friend, colleague and librarian is intrinsically linked to my name.

So what’s in a name? Well quite a bit really.






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