The other night, on our way to the movies, one of my very good friends finally delivered the news of having had his family name changed. In the course of the change, he reclaimed an old family name with both noble prestige but also a fascinating story of exceptional bravery of a soldier offering his horse to a king on a battle field. All in all, the name itself is so wonderful and so totally out of this mediocre world that I have wished this to happen for so many years. In all fairness and throughout these years, I, not only once or twice but probably hundreds of times, amused myself to play with the idea of my friend taking back their old family name and start branding himself from head to toes with embroidered family initials and code of arms – just like in some peculiar Wes Anderson movie.
With our nationality still incubating, a lot of Finns had their family names converted in decadent fashion to a Finnish version in masses along the way from the late 19th to early 20th century in the midst of rising national romanticism. Nowadays having your name changed seems to result from more typical themes: getting married, shaking off some family legacy you don’t want to be part of anymore, artsy excentricity, or who knows what. Sometimes people getting married adopt a new name for both of the victims, maybe to strike a compromise (yes, we like these lose-lose compromises more than butter!) or because they think having two names is or will be confusing for their children.
My own name has always been a bit of a challenge for me – first name especially: Arto (origins perhaps in Celtic Arthwr – a bear), in name fashion trends typically a name for men twice my age (yes, still, even if time goes by -haha..) My name feels to me as if somehow something that I know have had with me all the time but I still cannot really pin my name down to properly own it – as if it was my shadow. Alternatively, try closing your eyes and describing something so familiar and personal to you as your own fingers one by one, highlighting their each individual characteristic. I cannot (- not even if I have tried picturing them so many times with my eyes shut as a gateway to hypnagogia, but that’s another story). Coming to think of it, maybe I have this familiar yet distant relation to my name because of the difficulty or even impossibility to define oneself in the truest sense. In fact we seem to be moving targets to ourselves, constantly evolving, growing.
Putting characteristic charged name tags on others, on the other hand, might be more natural for us due to simple need for consistency commitment and predictability. This also goes back again to why family names used to matter so much until we broke away from small village communities to global scale. Back then, when our social expossure was limited to smaller communities, the your name was important to tell others about your origin (both family and also region), acting as a certificate, classification, and maintaining feodal order. Additionally, there were not too many people in Finland some centuries ago so it provided also useful information to strive for more ample in gene pool – at least in theory, that is. Despite having suffered inflation over the times, name still matters. For example in Finland, Swedish family names still spell old money in people’s perception and prejudice.
Thinking about my own name and the society, I hear this subtle rebel yell inside me. At the end of the day, I am obviously more than my name – not just a label put on me because of social rules and norms of the society.