This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time and an issue I’ve been struggling with for even longer: my name and how I feel about it. A simple and yet deeply complicated thing.
I’ve always wrestled with my sense of identity. It’s always felt like something unstable, something permanently unsettled that I can’t get a grip on. And one specific thing I’ve always struggled with is my name.
I don’t think it helps that my name – the most straightforward form of my identity – has changed multiple times over my life… Growing up, I was Alex: that’s what my family and friends called me. But, given that it was legally (and therefore from an administrative point of view) my middle name, I was constantly getting called the wrong name by teachers and doctors and so on; it was very frustrating to continually correct people. So, when I moved up to secondary school, I started using Lauren. I was about to have more than ten different teachers a week for five years and meet potentially hundreds of new people; I really, really didn’t want to be correcting that many people. And I wonder whether it was a manifestation of struggling with my name even then, even if I wasn’t fully cognisant of it then. So, from that point on, I was Lauren. It took a while to get used to – and coming back from the summer holidays was always a bit of a culture shock – but it wasn’t long before it didn’t even register anymore. I was Alex at home and Lauren everywhere else. I’m not sure it was a decision I should’ve been making at eleven but the change in school forced it and after all this time, it is what it is. The decision was made and, honestly, I think I’d probably do it again, if only for practical reasons (although I do still get confused about who I am to who and which name to sign on Christmas cards and so on).
Having said that, I’ve never felt particularly attached to either name; they’ve always felt weird to me and have done my whole life. Each name could just be another word; they don’t mean anything to me, don’t have any sentimental value. They just feel like prompts to respond to or indicators for action. Being called by either is a bit like wearing clothes that aren’t quite the right shape or trying to use a flathead screwdriver when you really need a Phillips head screwdriver – it does the job but it doesn’t feel like the right fit.
I’m hardly the first or the only person to feel this way. Sometimes our names don’t match our personalities (whether that’s down to stereotypes or literal descriptive words that get used as names, such as ‘Patience’ or ‘Faith’); sometimes they remind us of things we’d rather not think about; sometimes we simply don’t like the way they sound. There are even studies that show that your name can have a pretty dramatic impact on who you grow up to be and how you interact with the world, a phenomenon known as nominative determinism (x). Having a name that doesn’t feel like yours, that doesn’t feel like it fits you, can create a feeling of almost cognitive dissonance: our image and understanding of ourselves doesn’t match up with how the world views us, how the world identifies us, how we interact with the world and the people around us.
My relationship with my name has changed a little since I started releasing music under my full name, Lauren Alex Hooper, maybe because the name is now being associated with something I’ve created, something I’m proud of. That’s when I most feel like Lauren Alex Hooper. But I still don’t feel particularly connected to it. It could still be any random word but there’s some warmth that wasn’t there before.
When I was younger, I thought a lot about changing my name, about choosing a new one for myself but, in the end, I never did it. And then I started releasing music and, given how hard it is to carve out a career as an independent artist and songwriter, changing my name now would only make my life harder (and, quite honestly, it’s hard enough already – I don’t need to add to the pile). Plus, I’m not sure changing my name would actually change the feeling. I wonder if it’s more a case of not feeling comfortable as a person; maybe if I felt more comfortable in myself, my name wouldn’t feel the way it does. Or maybe it would and it’s just one of those things, one of those feelings that I just need to learn to make space for.