Something kind of strange about writing a dissertation on names is that nearly every social interaction reveals an opportunity to discuss or observe some aspect of name use.
Frequently, I’m grateful: when people ask what my dissertation is about it’s not so hard to offer an explanation that is meaningful to them, one that they can relate to and build on as we continue our conversation.
Often, it’s really fruitful: friends share personal stories about their names that allow me to confirm or to reconsider my understandings to date. Or I observe a social interaction to the same end.
Occasionally people have shared research leads such as finding a participant for my study, or letting me know that the Provincial Gazette publishes formal name changes.
And once, just once(!), I was privy to this:
While flying from Montreal to Vancouver Island, I stopped over in Vancouver. We island-bound passengers sat in cramped quarters, maybe meant to prepare us for the tininess of the plane that would deliver us over the Straight of Georgia. Sitting too close to two women, I could hear their every word.
Passenger 1: You know, I haven’t seen you for years. I’m so glad we had this chance to catch up.
Passenger 2: Me, too! Definitely. I mean, I don’t think I’d even seen you since you changed your name.
Passenger 1: Really? It’s been that long?!
Passenger 2: Yeah, I’d heard about it, but I hadn’t seen you.
Passenger 1: Yeah, I guess that makes sense. But doesn’t it suit me so much better?
Passenger 2: Yeah, for sure. It’s just… so much more you.
Passenger 1: I know! Feral, well, it just really suits me.
Passenger 2: Agreed! You just seem so much happier now, as Feral. I really can’t believe that your parents ever gave you that other name.
Passenger 1: I know. Growing up like that… it was really the worst.
Passenger 2: It’s unbelievable that your parents ever thought you were a Diane.