When basketballer Ron Artest decided to change his name to Metta World Peace – for no discernible reason other than simply because he wanted to – it was met with a collective roll of the Internet’s eyes.
It got me thinking: why do we prescribe such value to birth names, as opposed to people who choose to change their name to something they prefer?
(This is leaving aside, for now, women changing their surnames to reflect their marital status – this is accepted much more as a rite of passage, and less of choice)
Why is this such a problem? Why does the name given to you by someone else mean more than one you choose yourself?
It’s a problem I’ve thought about when curating the names which appear on this site – are birth names somehow more valid, or better, than ‘self-appointed names’? Who am I to judge when a Metta World Peace comes along?
To a large extent I think birth names come with so much pre-loaded baggage: they are the symbols by which we engage with everyone else in our lives. They take everything people know about us, often accumulated over years and years – what we look like and how we act – and reduce it down to a two-word codeword.
To willingly change a name – for no real reason other than simply wanting to – somehow becomes a rejection of your previous name, and thus your previous self.
People can change much about themselves and their appearance: tattoos, clothes, speech, weight; but to change a name, rightly or wrongly, seems the ultimate change.