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The following essay is re-published with the permission of its original author Robbie Blair. You can view the full essay here.

A name is not a small thing. I didn’t realize its full weight until I read Helen Keller‘s account of her genesis in the world of language and identity. In Keller‘s blind, deaf, pre-linguistic experience, there was only sensation. Keller tells how she was given a doll, and how her teacher attempted to tell her what doll meant. “I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor,” says Keller. It was later that same day that Keller discovered language in the experience famously captured in The Miracle Worker.

“Somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me,” recounts Keller. “I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”

It was only once the set of sensations embodied by “doll” had a name that Keller experienced guilt. To dash the doll to pieces wasn’t merely changing the experiences: It was destroying its very doll-ness. To understand that identity could be more than mere sensation was the beginning of an entirely new world for her. “When I learned the meaning of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and found that I was something, I began to think,” said Keller. “Then consciousness first existed for me.” It is this process of naming and defining that creates the world of the conscious mind.

For years I worked to consciously create an identity for myself as Rob D Young.  I created heavy self-perceptions, definitions, a brand of self. I established a reputation. I decided who “Rob D Young” is.

Then about six months ago I started seriously considering changing my name to Robert Blair in honor of my grandfather. Two years ago my grandfather started bleeding internally for no reason in particular. Not long thereafter he had what he dubbed “a bit of a problem with gravity.” I don’t know how people handle this process; I don’t know how to wait for the death of someone I love. There are so many ceremonies and processes and support systems for the passing of a loved one, but the gradual waning beforehand aches fiercely and we are given little else besides the ticking clock. We remind ourselves to remain grateful for whatever time he has left, and we try not to feel guilty for wanting him to stay around in a breaking body for even longer.

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Camryn Manheim never felt like a Debi

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Emmy-award winning actress and activist Camryn Manheim shares the story of  how and why she changed her name in this excerpt adapted from her memoir, “Wake Up, I’m Fat!

For many actors, taking on a stage name is a way to distinguish themselves.  I never took a stage name: I just changed my name altogether every few years until I got it right…

For some reason my parents decided to name me Debra.  (To all Debs, Deborahs, Debbies, and Debras, please do not take offense, but this name sucks!)  The hilarious part is that my parents agree that this is an awful name, which begs the question: “Well, then, what the hell were you thinking?”

And so I went through life with this albatross around my neck, a name with no character, no euphony, no style.  Then, lucky me, they made a whole porn series called Debbie Does DallasThat really helped me through high school.

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Middle Name Switches

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Clearly, parents today are giving a lot more thought to their children’s middle names than their own parents did.  Long gone are the automatic connective choices like Lee and Lynn, Beth and Bruce;  more likely now might be something more imaginative like Maeve or West—or Sebastian or Story—or Mom’s maiden or another family name.

For some people, the reasoning behind this is to give the child an additional option for later in life.  It works both ways: either he could switch his classic William for his jazziermiddle  Jasper, or she could opt for using her traditional, grown-up Elizabeth middle name over the less sophisticated Poppy.

It turns out that a surprising number of celebrities have done just that—chosen to use their middle as their marquee moniker.  Sometimes it was to drop a wimpy appellation for a more stylish one (Eldred for Gregory, Orvon for Gene), sometimes because a name was too common at the time (Mary, John, James) and the middle had more character (Farrah, Orson, Montgomery), sometimes maybe because probably just seemed cooler to be Brad than Bill.

As a result, some of the most stand-out celebrity names –Evangeline, Reese, Rihanna, Ashton and Jude—started out in second place on the birth certificate.  Here are some of the most prominent–And note that the last names given aren’t necessarily the ones they were born with.

GIRLS

Kathryn BRIDGET (Moynahan)

Lily CLAUDETTE (Colbert)

Mary DEBRA (Winger)

Nicole EVANGELINE (Lilly)

Audrey FAITH (Hill)

Mary FARRAH (Fawcett)

Dorothy FAYE (Dunaway)

Deborah HUNTER (Tylo)

Mary KATHLEEN (Turner)

Olive MARIE (Osmond)

Holly MICHELLE (Phillips)

Carole PENNY (Marshall)

Laura Jean REESE (Witherspoon)

Robin RIHANNA (Fenty)

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