March 2nd, 2005

More On Self-Naming

My entry the other day in which I wondered aloud why I resist calling myself a "feminist" has provoked unusually rich responses from both my LJ friends and other readers. I'm still struggling with the question, but feel like the path of my inquiry is more brightly lit than it was before. So let me extend a hearty thanks to everyone who corresponded with me.

One of the things that came up in a conversation with a non-LJer this morning is that I often exhibit discomfort where self-naming is concerned. As I wrote in a reply to one of the comments on that previous entry, I still want to write "Instructor Charlie Bertsch" on my course syllabi, because the distinction between those who are only allowed to call themselves "instructors" and those who have a more impressive title bothers me. There are lots of examples I can quickly call to mind of situations where I went out of my way to resist a name that it would have made outward sense for me to accept.

At the same time, though, I want to make it clear that my resistance is not merely the product of a diffuse anxiety surrounding all forms of self-naming. There are names I've willingly embraced, whether for personal or political reasons. Here are a few I came up with earlier this morning: dad, Pennsylvanian, leftist, basketball fan, white male, American, partner, Protestant, "I", teacher, Bertsch, asshole, blogger, Cal Bear and Berkeley graduate, writer, Democrat, music-lover, German, and intellectual.

While I was compiling that list, however, I couldn't help but think of things I try hard not to call myself: Californian, progressive, lover, punk, theorist, man, Christian, football fan, liberal, dick, professor, husband and, as previously noted, feminist. While clearly not symmetrical, the lists are closely related. I'm not sure what their content connotes, but it's certainly interesting.

It's also worthwhile to scrutinize individual items on the two lists. I have no trouble asserting that I'm a Protestant, even though my belief in deity has diminished with each passing year. I almost never refer to myself as a "husband." I will call Kim my "wife," when I think the situation dictates, but hate the way the word sounds coming out of my mouth. I liked "girlfriend" just as little. But "partner" works fine.

As my partner knows, I have a strong aversion to certain words that pass between us and an equally strong affection for others. Nouns matter to me a great deal. Self-naming, though, ups the ante even higher. I spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on what I would rather not claim to be. I wonder whether this is merely the product of personal experience or rather a generational phenomenon.

In closing, I think this would be a great meme for other folks to pick up. We could learn a lot from the inclusions and exclusions that each of us practices in the course of self-naming.
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