By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She currently works as a staff member in the Department as a Student Liaison and filmmaker, and will begin working on her M.A. this fall 2014 at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.
I go by “Andie.” I say “go by” not to distinguish my name from my legal name “Amanda” but to draw attention to the identification practices wrapped up in naming. Let me preface this a little… Growing up, I was determined to be called “Amanda.” I’m not really sure why, to be honest, but I decided that was “my” name. (Let’s just skip over the year when I was insistent on being called Ariel — yes, like the Little Mermaid…) However, around the age of 12 or so, I decided I quite liked the name Andie and wanted nothing more to do with Amanda. I despised being called Amanda and was adamant about my name being Andie. I can only retrospectively assume that this change was due my 12-13 year old self trying to feel out who “I” was. I suppose I clung to that, and I would become very frustrated with people who misspelled my name.
“It’s Andie, with an ‘ie.’ A-n-d-i-e.”
Even now I catch myself getting annoyed with people who misspell my name. I have an
album on facebook dedicated to Starbucks baristas’ many misspellings of my name. But why? I still got my coffee, didn’t I? And what makes “Andie” more correct than “Andy” or “Andi”? It’s because “Andie” identifies “me,” right?
Russell McCutcheon’s recently reposted Edge blog post “What’s in a Name?” got me to thinking about that. While my name does indeed identify me, I don’t think there’s an essential, stable “me” for that name to identify. If that were the case, then I would imagine the name to do that work would be Amanda, no? It is, after all, my name. Not Andie, right? Well, they both are, but I don’t use them interchangeably. Rather, each name identifies me to a particular group of people in a particular setting. And whether I introduce myself as Amanda or Andie, I’m reinforcing the idea of a stable self and identity with each name, or identification. So I guess it would be “selves” and “identities,” then. Because they’re all me depending on time and place (though not static or enduring), are they not?
Everything we do whether speaking or acting is performance in some way — creating and recreating a sense of who we are. Just consider how we greet different people: the way I greet someone at a conference is vastly different from how I greet old friends from camp, my coworkers, or my barista because in each situation — and without thinking about it — I’m acting in the way I wish to be perceived by that particular audience. A performance — not fake, but not consistent. Identification practices are therefore social practices, something that varies per each situation. But which one is right, which one is me? Aren’t they all?
So rather than identifying an actual thing, names give us the ability to create an “I,” or sense of individual self, that’s different from a “you.” I’m not you because, I’m me — I’m Andie. So why do I get annoyed when that barista misspells my name? Logically, I know that there is no stable identity linked to my name, but in that moment, I am Andie. Not Miss Andie, like I am to the kids at the camp where I used to work, or Amanda Ray Alexander, like I am on the first day of class when the professor is going through the class roster — just Andie. And without knowing it, the barista is contesting this, who I see myself to be in that moment. And despite my awareness of the fluidity of identity, I still operate under the assumption that there is, in fact, a distinct “me.” But this brief interchange at Starbucks works to remind me that my identity is determined socially, and in various ways, not representative of some internal, core identity.
So whether I’m being called Andie or Amanda, Andrew or Anderson, or Anzie or Dandy, the name is doing its job — I still answer to it, I still get my coffee. And it helps to remind me that identities are fluid and malleable, not stable and lasting. So when my Italian professor calls me Alessandra, I don’t correct her because, really, what’s in a name?