tonight on this american life, the program was on names. it fascinated me. i have been thinking about names for weeks now, about what it means to be named something and to name yourself something. my name both explicates me and renders me somehow inaccessible. my names, the many names i have, explain who i am to someone who does not know me. they say something about me. i have parents who have been married for forty years. i am a member of a church that believes certain ideas and whose members live in certain ways. i have siblings and nephews and nieces. my names explain my background, my beliefs, and my identity. they allow a stranger to begin to understand me and to become my friend. but my names also build a fence around me--around the essence of who i am--and others stop at the fence, thinking they know me without having truly understood me. because i am mormon, i must necessarily think certain things and act in certain ways. at least i must in others' perceptions of who i am. names provide easy answers as to my being. i believe certain things, think certain things, do certain things. i don't think and don't do and don't believe other things. sometimes the limitations and explanations inherent in the connotation of my names are accurate. many times they are not. but i cannot escape them because others cannot forget them. the true litmus of friendship, of love, is whether a person can get behind my names, my surface identity and begin to understand me, rather than the names that have been assigned to me. this is when i can begin to be free with others. my names are not at my center; they are the periphery. seen from the outside they are one thing; seen from the inside they are another. and seen from the outside they cause problems because they delineate difference and exclusion. but seen from the inside they become beautiful and accepting. a name is a starting point; it provides a context for understanding my soul. but it can only be a starting point. one does not truly understand a name until they can see how it has been redefined by the essence of the named person. i make my names my own, though they may have been given to me by others. when you meet me, you encounter my names first. but then you move inward, towards the real me and when you get inside, you look back and realize that the definition of my names that you once possessed and believed in is not accurate. you begin to see that my names are other because on the inside, i have changed them, fitted them to the contours of my mind and my heart.
i am amelia. and in spite of history, i gave myself that name.