About a year after I met her, my friend Becca decided to change her name. I don’t think she ever had it legally changed or anything, but she started asking people to call her “Dora,” and we did. And suddenly she was “Dora,” and people would mention “Becca,” and I wouldn’t know who they were talking about, and then they’d say, “You know, Becca-Dora.”
I never heard an explanation of what brought about this desire to change her name. I think I asked her and she said something like “just because.” At the time, we were both studying existentialism, I as a casual student, and Becca-Dora as a philosophy major in the middle of writing a senior thesis on “Freedom and Facticity.” I couldn’t tell you what “Freedom and Facticity” means exactly, but at the time I suspected that had something to do with the name change. It seemed a sort of philosophy-in-action demonstration of how much we define our selves. If you want to be Dora, it turns out you can just start being Dora.
But at some point after we graduated, Dora decided she wanted to be Becca again, and so everyone called her Becca again. And now Dora is just a vague idea of … something. Whatever the reason was for Dora, I can only assume from the later reversal that it wasn’t a very good reason to change names.
My uncle, on the other hand, had what I think is a very good reason to change his name, but he never did. I didn’t hear this story until I was old enough to think it was odd that no one had told me earlier. But here it is: my grandparents’ first child was named “Kenneth Eugene.” This child died three days after birth. Then they had another child, and they named him … “Kenneth Eugene.” This second Kenneth Eugene is my uncle Ken.
So that’s weird, right? I’m pretty sure I would change my name if I found out I was named after my dead older brother. But I almost changed my name because it’s hard to spell, so I’m probably not the best person to judge what would be a good reason to change one’s name. Most people never change their names, but are there any social norms for those who do? I don’t see any. It’s name-changing anarchy out there. Anyone can do it, and no one does. Maybe that’s what “Freedom and Facticity” means.