I’ve Got A Name

From time to time I find the music of the late Jim Croce to be particularly inspirational [1].  One of his bigger hits was a melancholy song about identity, and it should come as little surprise given the identity politics of our own time [2] that the question of naming should be of such great personal importance.  When we deal with the subject of identity we have a few complications to deal with, and I was reminded of that fact again as I was reading a book today that was both too close to home and quite distant from my own experience.  Let us first set the stage, and note that the book I read dealt with different outsider groups and the communities they had attempted to build.  Without going into specific details at this time–I will save that for the book review–there were at least a few groups in this book that I could belong to, only I do not.  On the one hand, I meet the qualifications for these groups, and we share common struggles and a common sense of alienation from what is considered normal at least in the statistical sense.  On the other hand, though, I am not a part of those groups nor have I been particularly accepted into them.

Identity is thus a tricky business.  There are some identities which we can claim without anyone having to validate that claim.  For example, I claim to be an author.  I do not know when I first considered myself one, but it was likely when I was young because I wrote my first collection of poems in elementary school and have written poetry, plays, diary entries, personal essays, and other writings on a nearly daily basis since the age of 14 or so.  At no point in my time as a writer was there some sort of credentialing process for me to claim an identity as an author.  No one even thought to question it–the proof of my writing was and is evident and public, and all one needs to do to be an author is to write, and it is beyond dispute that I write, regardless of what one thinks of my writings.  The same sort of identity was the case when it came to considering myself a musician, as this was an activity I was involved in, and so my claim of the identity associated with that activity was beyond dispute.

On the other hand, there are some identities that are foisted upon one without my having chosen them.  One major similarity to the previous type of identity is that these identities were not questioned either, not least by those who gave them, even if I viewed them in a hostile way.  From my youth, for example, my brother has teased me for being an Apsy for my flattened emotional affect and fairly transparently obvious social difficulties as well as for my intensity of focus and able memory.  No doubt there are many others who have been annoyed by these tendencies even where their labels were less precise, like nerd and so on.  The differences between identities we have chosen for ourselves and those that have been foisted upon us is considerable, not least in what those identities mean.  When we choose an identity for ourselves, we implicitly mark ourselves as members of a particular tribe and see others with a similar self-identification as being fellow supporters who view our shared identification with a sense of pride, regardless of whether that pride is deserved or not.  When we are labeled as something, though, even if the words used are the same, that label is a stigma, and marks us as being defective or unacceptable in some fashion.

There are some identities, though, that are neither free for us to decide nor are foisted on us by others.  In some cases and some situations, the identities we might wish to claim require some sort of validation by others because there is some sort of threshold we must meet.  For example, in my young adulthood I joined a particular organization after my qualifications were verified by a couple of tests that determined I had met the standard for being a part of that particular group.  Likewise, more than a decade ago I explored an obscure branch of my family history and found that a certain identity claim was denied to me because my family had not signed a particular treaty that allowed people to claim that particular identity.  And so it goes.  Where an identity is desirable and contains certain benefits, that identity is usually going to require a verification process in order to restrict access to those who are judged to be qualified or acceptable.  It should come as little surprise that these are the identities I seek the least often, not being someone who appreciates having others decide what I should be called.  Perhaps it is the same for you as well.

[1] See, for example:



[2] See, for example:








About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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