Who am I? Often when such a question is posed, it is being asked of one’s self in an abstract sense. The quandary usually attempts to measure what qualities of body, mind and soul a person is defined by. Influences like family, work, environment, gender and age are also a frequent consideration in the analysis of what makes up “self”.
Most men have a limited concept of what it is like for a woman to give up her last name and take her husband’s as is tradition within marriage. And if one name change’s impact exists beyond the usual grasp of the majority of men, a second or third matrimonial name modification is completely out of most male’s sphere of knowledge.
There are some men who can relate because their name was changed due to divorce, remarriage and/or adoption. I am one of those. More than just a little confusion of identity in younger years was rooted there.
I was born James Browning and was named after my dad. I grew up being called “Rick or Ricky” which is short for my middle name (although it feels strange unless called that by a few family members and old friends). My parents divorced when I was age seven with my mother remarrying in my tenth year.
My mom’s choice of a second husband may have been alright for her, but it was terrible for my little brother and I. Our stepfather which we were made to call “Dad” was at the least mentally ill and at worst an evil SOB. Actually he was both in my opinion. My brother and I were afraid of him for good reason. One example was seeing him wave a pistol once at my father telling him never to visit us boys ever again or he’d kill him.
The evil stepfather insisted that my brother and I change our last names through legal adoption. Not wanting to was no balance for the fear we felt and we reluctantly went along. So in the 5th grade I went to school one day with a different last name, but my teacher refused to use it for over a month. That was OK. I hated my new last name anyway. In the adoption process my birth-father’s first name of James was also eliminated from mine. At least my nickname was still intact… at least for a while.
At 16 years old with the help of my real father I was able to do a legal name change back to what I was born with. However, the stepfather I loathe to this day is still listed on my birth record. Adoptions are very difficult to undo when the birth and adoptive father are deceased.
That may seem a good place for my name game story to end, but there’s more. At fifteen I landed a part-time job at the little radio station in my hometown and that began a career in broadcasting. At that time I still wore the adoptive name and used it on the air out of fear of the evil stepfather.
Fast forward a few years. I am nineteen and have landed an overnight DJ job in Colorado. I am “Rick Browning” and am all ready to begin using the name I think of myself as. But I can’t. The person on the air after me was named Rick Martin and management did not want two “Rick’s” on the air back to back. A new “nickname” was picked for me in a staff meeting with a show of hands. Had that new handle been only a temporary thing it would have been no big deal. Wouldn’t you know while using the new nickame was when my career took off. Not wanting to start over again I ended up being stuck professionally with the “on-air” name. Are you confused yet?
Generally today I think of myself as one name professionally and another in my private life. However, I’d be telling a fib without admission of wondering a little sometimes just who the heck I am. I find solace, consolation and gratitude in knowing what matters most is inside me. The label people call me by is, in reality, of little consequence.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.