Insert Name Here
Throughout history, many prominent figures have changed their names for various reasons:
Religious Conversions: Probably the best excuse for a drastic name change, a religious conversion usually involves a comprehensive self-examination and a dramatic shift in philosophy. As such, it makes sense that converts no longer identify with their birth names.
- Malcolm Little – Malcolm X
- Cassius Clay – Muhammad Ali
- Cat Stevens – Yusaf Islam
Athletic Branding: The major sport leagues in America generate a tremendous amount of revenue through television contracts and advertising. The athletes that comprise these associations have not failed to notice this fact, and they have been branding themselves for decades in order to emphasize their role as pop culture figures.
- Ron Artest – Metta World Peace
- George Ruth – Babe Ruth
- Chad Johnson – Chad Ochocinco
Musical Stage Names: Since pop music has transformed from a primarily auditory medium to one that includes all elements of an artist’s persona, many musicians have adopted stage names in order to capture the essence of how they would like to be represented.
- Stephani Germanotta – Lady Gaga
- Reginald Dwight – Elton John
- Gordon Sumner – Sting
We can now add another musician to this list, Calvin Broadus. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (later shortened to just Snoop Dogg… but recognizable by the simple, one-word moniker, Snoop), returned from a vacation in Jamaica last February feeling inspired. So inspired, in fact, that he held a press conference in New York City yesterday to announce some significant career and life changes.
Broadus declared that, since he has returned home, he is “Bob Marley reincarnated,” and that he will be shifting his musical focus from rap to reggae. Further, and perhaps most notably, the rap superstar will be changing his stage name from Snoop Dogg to ‘Snoop Lion’ (presumably to reflect the Rastafarian symbol, the Lion of Judah).
The rap superstar stated that he feels “born again” and the title of his new reggae album, “Reincarnated,” seems to reflect this revitalized sense of purpose. This is all fine and good. If Snoop feels that he has exhausted the rap genre and wishes to transfer to a new medium, I’m not going to condemn him for expressing his art in a new fashion. However, Mr. Broadus’ new handle has me thinking about the ways in which our titles significantly affect our public identities.
What Do Names Mean?
As the historical and pop cultural individuals listed above can surely attest, our names have a major impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. For instance, consider how we immediately associate a person’s name with their most significant character attributes. I think that many people would say (based on several media portrayals) that my name evokes a somewhat arbitrary notion of a twenty-something, ex-fraternity member, severely lacking substance and direction. This isn’t to say that I don’t like my name, but it implies a certain degree of “bro-ness” that lacks a rational relationship between signifier and signified.
Why do we judge humans by their titles? Do parents of certain personality types all tend to favor the same names? Do individuals with these names feel a subconscious desire to fill an ascribed role that is associated with the name? It can’t be this simple. I had a friend named Kyle in high school and her parents were completely different in every way from my own. Also, I didn’t belong to a fraternity (not that there’s anything wrong with that), nor am I much of a “bro” (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Here are a few popular names and the broad categories with which people often associate them:
These classifications are rarely fitting, and in most cases, the opinion toward the name isn’t definitively linked to the meaning. The two exceptions are Neveah (Heaven spelled in reverse) and Hunter. Since these words have a clearly defined meaning as nouns in the English language, they naturally elicit thoughts related to a certain category of person.
What’s interesting, however, is that the other eight names generated a similar response from each individual sampled (a small collection of co-workers, family, and close friends). For instance, most people think of Martin’s as nerds and Heidi’s as ditzy. (Whether these perceived categorizations are fair or not is an entirely separate discussion.) It appears that, at least within the confines of my life, people tend to think of names in relation to personality type.
The Existential Crisis
From a socio-anthropological perspective, a name represents an individual’s right to exist. Our names separate us from other people and ensure an observance of our uniqueness. It doesn’t matter if your name is John Smith, Johnny Appleseed, or Jon Bon Jovi; a person’s title demands that they be recognized by society as a distinct being. Names translate into existence. We have names, therefore we are.
According to an article entitled, “First Names as Identity Stereotypes,” published in the Journal of Social Psychology, “A person’s first name is one of the most obvious components of his or her identity… Semantic associations of names elicited from various age groups, such as students and young children, have tended to be invariant across samples, suggesting that first names have a stereotypic nature” (Beit-Hallahmi, et al.). So, if names have stereotypes, how can we break free from the bondage of ascribed nomenclature in order to carve out an identity that best represents us?
In the archetypal Christian creation story, Adam’s and Eve’s supreme gift from God is their permission and encouragement to name everything that surrounds him. The symbolic act of naming the animals implies the dominion of man over all other beings and objects in Eden. Adam shows us that naming is the ultimate act of agency and autonomy. Adam and Eve’s adventures in the Garden of Eden is one of the most important and referenced stories in the entire Western Canon, so it should come as no surprise that we place such a premium on naming.
However, the vast majority of us didn’t choose the name that we have today. Our parents likely had long conversations about the perfect combination of phonetics and linguistic aesthetics before finally deciding on Frank, or Sarah, or Farrah. Therefore, if naming is a form of dominion over other people, places, and objects, we have been denied our power from our very inception by the people we trusted most; our parents! Why then, do we find it so odd when people choose to change their names? It’s a matter of gaining some control in our lives and presenting ourselves the way we wish to be perceived.
With all that said, although the name, ‘Snoop Lion,’ might prove to be nothing more than a strange gimmick to sell records, I think I’ve talked myself into supporting Mr. Broadus’ new moniker. Why shouldn’t we be able to re-brand ourselves? In some ways, it’s the ultimate act of creativity. At the very least, I think that our essences have changed dramatically from the time of our birth. As we have grown and matured through myriad life experiences, we have succeeded in creating a distinct personality, and there’s nothing wrong with an individual who chooses to change the label of their personality, regardless of how bizarre the new name may sound.
Here’s looking at you, Snoop Lion.
Dinur, Beit-Hallahmi, and Jon Hoffman. “First Names as Identity Stereotypes.” The Journal of
Social Psychology 136.2 ((1996): 191-200. Print.
Zimmerman, Shari A. “Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’: Eve’s Struggle for Identity.” American Imago
38:3 (1981): 247-267. Print.