There’s Power In Your Name

It’s June, which is Pride month! I’m straight myself, but I have many queer friends and have been welcomed into many queer spaces over the years. But while I’m an ally to the queer community, I do relate to them in one aspect: the importance and power of choosing your own name.

I’ve got no problems with my given name. I rather enjoy “Michael.” Growing up there were a lot of other Michaels in my school district, so my peers had to come up with ways to differentiate between us. Nicknames were the go-to, and all of mine sucked. That was until my dear friend Dave, with whom I am still very close to this day, gave me the nickname “Mookie.” It resonated with me, others seemed to like it, and throughout the remainder of high school I chose that as my name, and most of you know me by it today.

But that wasn’t always the case. When I left my hometown to attend college I didn’t think to introduce myself as “Mookie” to a new group of peers. I decided to see what new nickname I could earn, or whether my given name would make a triumphant comeback. Neither really worked. “Mike,” which some had defaulted to, was already starting to feel like an old shirt that didn’t quite fit right any more. One dude from Acting class called me “Mike the Mudshark” for about a month. “Vegan Mike” was my least favorite of the names given to me. I found myself floundering without a name that properly fit.

One day, in Acting class, I decided to reclaim my old nickname. I remember it as clear as day. We were doing some exercise where we had to state our names, and when it came to my turn I took a deep breath and, for the first time, declared myself as “Mookie.” The feeling was strange and terrifying and wonderful; strange because I’d never told people what to call me before; terrifying because I was sure my peers were going to laugh at me; wonderful because it was an act of empowerment and declaration of self I’d never experienced until then.

Besides a classmate or two muttering “what did he just call himself?” no one seemed to mind very much, and throughout the remainder of college (and beyond) I was Mookie again.

I bring this up during Pride month because I feel like it must be a similar experience to what queer folks who are transitioning into a new identity go through. That feeling of empowerment and the assurance that comes from a declaration of who you are, perhaps mixed with that moment of panic I experienced when I first crossed that threshold of publicly choosing my name.

There is great power in your name, be it the one you are given or the one you choose. Declare yourself. Wear your name with pride. Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re “supposed” to be called. A wrong name feels uncomfortable. The right name for the right you feels incredible.