Identity is not defined by a birth certificate

SaraBeth Caplin

Like any spunky, imaginative little girl, I must have gone through about 50 different names as a kid, depending on who my fictional hero was at the time. I wanted to be called Ariel, Ramona, Matilda, Belle and many more (I’m still quite partial to the name Ariel, actually). The stage of life I was in, leaving, or about to enter at the time I “adopted” these names is significant because I was learning more about who I was and who I wanted to become by emulating the heroines who possessed those names.

One of my favorite books in middle school was Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The protagonist, legally named Susan, unofficially changes her name to reflect her unique, eclectic personality. While I wouldn’t advocate changing your name more than once if you can help it, the idea that your character is not solely defined by what is written on your birth certificate intrigues me.

I care so much about names and the significance they have, not just on the individuals they are given to, but the families who carefully choose them because I never felt like the one I was given suited me. Born Sarah Elizabeth Caplin, I never felt like it fit. Surely there are far worse names I could have been cursed with (just open any edition of People magazine to see what crazy names celebrities come up with for their offspring these days), but given the extreme popularity of my name in the eighties and nineties, I could never consider it my own. I was – and, admittedly, I still am – a girl who loves the spotlight (sometimes a little too much). I wanted a unique name to help create the unique persona I wished to obtain, but not so unique that no one I knew would be able to remember it. So when I entered college, I became SarahBeth.

Whether you go by your middle name, first and middle name combined, a completely different nickname or carry the name of a relative, only you can decide what it means to you. Yes, parents struggle to choose what they consider to be a perfect name, but I don’t believe that a person can be shaped to become exactly what that name represents. Letting your name reflect who you really are is what makes the world a more interesting place.

SarahBeth Caplin is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].