Big Rowan Ackison (greensh) wrote,
Big Rowan Ackison
greensh

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Recycled: Labels and Names

I am dead tired, so I am recycling a really interesting article I wrote back in 2007.  For your consideration...

People’s use of names has always fascinated me. I first encountered this during the 90s when I was part of the BBS (Bulletin Board System) scene. I ran a general/adult board in Columbus GA. As part of the “in crowd” I knew a lot of the users and attended parties with fellow sysops. It was in this environment that I first ran into the “alias” game. It was reasonable for people to use their bbs handle on the BBS. The weirdness happened when people insisted on being called by their bbs handle all the time, or at the least, in situations where the BBS culture reigned.

Flash-forward about six years. I got involved with the pagan community. There people use "craft names" to convey their identities. Joan Smith became "Shadow Fox Pixie" and so on. The foundational reasoning for this was very similar to that of the bbs handle. People did not want to reveal their “true” or mundane identities when their lifestyle/behavior/spirituality/etc. would not be appreciated by a wider world. This is cool. The weirdness, once again, was that people seemed to become fixated on these alter-egos.

Two things came from this fixation. The first is that some people were never known by their mundane names. They were always "Lady Blue Moon Beam" or "Lord Shadow Raven". Did they have lives outside of the pagan gatherings? Who knows? The other wrinkle was the pomp and circumstance that some people took on with their alter-egos. In the BBS world Joe Smith would become "Laser Rage". In the pagan world people would take on the names of semi-deities and such. Here in the south-east of the United States, there is a large percentage (it seems!) of women who embrace the name "Rhiannon". The proto-celtic meaning of the word is "great queen". This is an excellent intention for a name, but the apparent prevalence begs the question, can everyone who has the name be a great queen?

So why do people do this? The "Rhiannon phenomenon" may answer part of this riddle. The pragmatic reason to assume an alias is to protect another identity from being outed. This could be done with the application of other mundane names. The professional "John Smith" could easily use then name "Bob Grant" when attending a pagan gathering. They don't though! The bbs handle and craft name share the purpose of empowering the person using the alternative name. To continue using our "John Smith", it would be disempowering for his craft name to be "Flatulent Toad". Instead John would choose a name that speaks to a higher goal. He may call himself "Crimson Dragon" instead. Another wrinkle in the pagan world is the use of titles. It is "Lord" this and "Lady" that. The pragmatic use of these titles is to indicate who has X amount of training and degrees. The title empowers the user while conveying their level of seniority/training. The titles also play up to the individuals egos in "empowering" ways, sometimes to the chagrin of their subordinates!

Aliases can be useful for wide group associations. I know of pagans who have used the same craft name for years. They interact with many groups in the pagan world while wearing the alias. For example, In the southeastern United States, if you say "Owl" a good number of pagans will know exactly who you speak of. The group factor sets up interaction dynamics. Some groups are very friendly and safe. Other groups are just known to be pagan. The wider the circle, the more pragmatic the use of the alias becomes. When the group is personal or intimate, the use of the alias becomes grandiose and gaudy. Here's an example. Let's say Jack Smith is the head of a company. It is reasonable for outsiders to call him "President Smith" during introductions. There are those in his company who rightly call him "Mr. Smith". His close friends and direct reports call him "Jack". His kids call him "Dad" and his wife calls him "Poopsie". It is not reasonable for Jack to expect his wife to call him "President Jack Smith" and it is not respectful for his subordinates to call him "Poopsie". BBS handles, craft names, and aliases in general have a proper time and place for their use.

The labels of father, minister, witch, shaman, magnus, psychic, etc. are also an alias. The label is worn to identify the person to the larger group and empower the person individually. The label, like an alias, does not mean the same thing to all people. It is not reasonable to expect this. The label also does not give the wearer the right or expectation for equal usage across all groups. Sometimes a label or alias becomes more of a burden than a advantage. "Minister Smith" must do no wrong and "Psychic Smith" must know all.

Here's the IMO part of the article. I personally stay away from labels and aliases. I use one on LJ and MySpace for the pragmatic purpose of "protecting" my work-a-day identity. I work with some wonderful guys and gals. Most are heavily Christian. All of them know I am different, but it would not be beneficial to me for them to know HOW different I am. I use my mundane name at pagan gatherings. I will use that name when/if I meet any of you personally. This is my thing. IMO there are as many traps to using an alias or label as there are benefits. Some people may need the assurance that a "Lord This" or "Lady That" may give them. Some functional labels of "Minister Who" and "Shaman Her" are completely appropriate to identify abilities and responsibilities. This is all fine, but I would like to meet people who don't mind stepping forward and saying, "my name is Jane, John, Jack or Jacky".

Tags: labels, names, recycle
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