This question is a follow-up to the one asking about the orphanage-bestowed name, and its importance; I’d like to expand on this a little bit if I may.
In local culture, the question to ask after someone is min aya bayt?—from which house? In this way a [family] name is closely tied to place, and in fact many family names reflect a place name as their basis: Masri, Traboulsi, Sidaoui, etc.
As we discussed in the other item, the connection that is found in a name is radically undone by an adoption agency which often ascribes a willfully connectionless moniker or even number to a child such that the reverse is true—the child is unable to trace back to originating place, house, family.
Because of this, I notice in the adoptee world various attempts at renaming oneself—either in using one’s true name, one’s bogus bureaucratic name, or else a name that reflects the mix of the above in some way.
I bring this up because last week I was informed by my lawyer that she had found my bureaucratic name in the Civil Registry, despite their willful attempt to prevent this from happening by putting an incorrect number down on my birth certificate. I am infinitely thankful for my lawyer’s persistence.
What this means is that through some bureaucratic shuffling, I can take my false adoption papers and move them from the ecclesiastical court to the civil court, base a case on my naturalization document which reveals my name change at the age of five, and present myself in front of a personal status court judge so that the words “now known as” will be added to my entry, thus allowing me to obtain Lebanese nationality.
I should be less sad, but I am not. I feel no closer to knowing anything. I feel no furthered sense of belonging. I find no justice in a bureaucratic slight of hand.
I am reminded of this passage from Malcolm X’s biography:
My application had, of course, been made and during this time I received from Chicago my “X.” The Muslim’s “X” symbolized the true African family name that he never could know. For me, my “X” replaced the white slavemaster name of “Little” which some blue-eyed devil name Little had imposed upon my paternal forebears. The receipt of my “X” meant that forever after in the nation of Islam, I would be known as Malcolm X. Mr. Muhammad taught that we would keep this “X” until God Himself returned and gave us a Holy Name from His own mouth.
This is strikingly similar to the French legal process which allows a child to be born “sous X“—”under X”—thus severing any connection to forebears.
This is of no small import. My friends in my neighborhood, when I told them I was able to regain my nationality at long last, asked me right away: “Can you change your name?” I replied that despite my use of a pseudonym (not culturally foreign here, and tied more to politics than literary use), I would want my name to be my original name, which they understood.
This makes sense again culturally speaking, since the formal way to ask for someone’s name is not “shoo ismak/ismik” — “what is your name?” but instead “shoo al-ism al-karim” — what is the beneficent naming”, which implies a bestowal of large import. All the same, I am intrigued by the radical renaming of Malcolm X, or that of Stokely Carmichael, for another example.
My question: How do you relate to your name(s)? What issues have come up for you in their use? How have they adapted over time, over communications media, and over gained knowledge about your origins?
What is your “X” and why?