On a Name and Belonging

I changed my name to reflect who I am as a person and artist. Kindle. It means to light or to inspire. It is also a combination of the first letter of my birth name and my maternal grandmother’s birth name. She was one of the strongest women I know and never wanted to change her name based on the patriarchal tradition of taking her husband’s name. I think every woman should be able to choose their own name. It is a small act of retaining autonomy in a world continuously trying to take that away. 

The tradition of women changing their last names to match their husbands’ originates in the property transfer that took place upon marriage. Women went from belonging to their father’s families to becoming their husband’s property as part of a gendered, heteronormative tradition. While the property aspect has mostly changed, social, familial, and religious pressure exists. The name is often changed to belong to a family unit, yet oddly men do not (or rarely) feel the need to change their name as part of their identity to do so.

It also can be the path of least resistance to take the husband’s name since societal structures are set up to make life easier with one name (i.e., insurance, kids, etc.) Of course, some women may just choose to be rid of their surname since it holds negative associations. 

I have a problem with some traditions or at least the unexamined ones. A tradition or “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation” that is not questioned perpetuates and can be very detrimental or even dangerous. There are many historical examples, and we are going through many now, perpetuating false ideas that some people are supposedly lesser than those who “belong” to a group. 

I think true belonging is belonging to yourself first and being your authentic self. Belonging is the opposite of fitting in. Belonging never demands you change who you really are. (Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou and Brené Brown, for that clarity.) I never really “fit in” growing up and was mostly okay with that, even though there were people in my life who were judgmental and downright mean. Fitting in often meant being loved, and we all want that growing up.

Then later, I started to listen to what society told me I should be as a woman, a consumer, and a person of this country. That needed a tearing down (and still does) of learning the actual histories, rebuilding, and returning to belonging to myself and the earth. It is an ongoing process.

Capitalist culture, societal pressure, and technology tell us we must fit in, be part of a group, and be constantly connected superficially while often disconnected from ourselves, each other, and nature. I believe if you belong to yourself and understand the reciprocal relationship with the earth, then real connection can happen.