what's in a name?

Born: 'Danah Michele Mattas'. My mother added the 'h' because she liked the balance of it - danah balances quite well. My mother remarried when i was young, so i added the name 'Beard' to the end of my name, making my childhood->college name 'Danah Michele Mattas Beard'. In high school, after my mother and stepfather divorced, i started the process of changing my name to my maternal grandfather's - 'Boyd'. I wanted his name because it represented my family, my culture, my heritage; i wanted his name out of respect.

Did you know that if you want to change your name and you aren't getting married, the authorities are not so thrilled? Anyhow, it took me many years, but in the summer of 2000, i finally had legal paperwork acknowledging my name as i saw fit:

danah michele boyd

No, i did not forget to capitalize that, but i've quickly learned that most people don't appreciate my decision to leave the capitalization out of my name. There are a lot of reasons that i got rid of the capital letters in the final name change, some personal and some political.

First, there's my mother's original desire to have balance and my adult appreciation of that (as a child, i was just cranky that i could never find anything with my name on it). danah balances; Danah does not. In fact, my entire name balances quite conveniently, in all of its forms: danah michele mattas beard boyd. There's something elegant about that.

There's also the political. I was always bothered by the fact that the first person singular pronoun is capitalized in english - i always thought it was quite self-righteous. Or, as Douglas Adams noted, "Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to." Ever since i was a kid, i was told that the world does not revolve around me, yet our written culture is telling me something entirely different. Why not capitalize 'we' or 'they'? (Yes, i love the work of bell hooks.)

So, i started researching where the capitalization of said pronoun came from and was quite stunned to find that it was always capitalized because it always appeared as the first word in a sentence, never stuck in the middle. And then, when it started appearing in the middle, it started getting capitalized out of convention and because people worried that it would get lost in script. Of course, "It's odd, and a little unsettling, to reflect upon the fact that English is the only major language in which "I" is capitalized; in many other languages "You" is capitalized and the "i" is lower case" (journalist Sydney J. Harris).

Well, we're in a digital age and the computer conveniently spaces the 'i' quite properly to make it recognizable, so i gave up on giving it such a special level of importance - it is referring to me, right? I thought an attempt at minimalizing the individualization could start at home.

But, this led me on a mental tangent - What's in a name? What's its worth? Why is it so valuable that it is to be capitalized? Down this path, i started thinking about names as descriptors versus separate entities. Isn't a name simply another unique adjective for me? A label? I am not my name; my name is simply another descriptor of me. Should i weight that descriptor as anything more valuable than the other adjectives used to describe me? Obviously, i care about my name - i've gone out of my way to change it too many times to suggest otherwise. But do i believe that capitalization shows the appropriate value?

But that's exactly it - it's my name and i should be able to frame it as i see fit, as my adjective, not someone else's. Why must it follow some New York Times standard guide for naming? The words that i choose to describe myself should be framed in writing and in speech in a way that feels as though i own them, as though i can relate to them. This is not to say that i wanted a unique symbol to stand for my name, simply that i wanted to write it in a fashion that showed the beauty of my mother's consideration. Of course, as i get older, i end up having a deep engrained individualization of my name. I really don't like when people remove the 'h' or capitalize my name - it's not how i've chosen to identify.

With all of these thoughts in mind, i signed my new name change papers simply as i wanted to label myself, with an aesthetic appreciation for the spelling of my name, and with a unique flair that allowed me to truly hold on to my name as my own:

danah michele boyd