Vol. 60 No. 3 (2012)
Research Article

Naming a New Self: Identity Elasticity and Self-Definition in Voluntary Name Changes

Published 2012-09-01


  • surnames,
  • Canadian French,
  • anglicization,
  • translation,
  • processes



This article considers how personal name changes are situated within their sociological context in the United States. Reviewing both popular and scholarly texts on names and name changes, I draw on recent work on identity and narrative by Oriana to argue that voluntary personal name changes are made in relation to a sense of narrative elasticity or identity elasticity, and act symbolically to make a shifting identity or self-narrative manifest in the social context. Drawing out these themes through an exploration of name changes for ethnic self-definition or religious purposes, I conclude with a reflection on the unstable social balance between an individual’s interest in self-expression and society’s priority on the stable identification of persons within a given social sphere.


  1. Ali-Bey Omar. 1991. Coalition for a better life to sponsor name changing ceremony. Call & Post. June 13, sec. A.
  2. Anyike JamesC. 1990. Reason for my Name Change. Chicago Defender, April 2, 12.
  3. Ashley LeonardRN. 1971. Changing Times and Changing Names: Reasons, Regulations, and Rights. Names 19: 167–187.
  4. Ashley LeonardRN. 1996. What’s in a Name?… Everything You Wanted to Know. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing.
  5. Bering Dietz. 1992. The Stigma of Names: Antisemitism in German Daily Life, 1812–1933. Trans. Neville Plaice. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  6. Bernasconi Oriana. 2011. Negotiating Personal Experience Over the Lifetime: Narrative Elasticity as an Analytic Tool. Symbolic Interaction 34(1): 20–37.
  7. Blumer Herbert. 1969. Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  8. Brown Rusty. 1983. What’s in a name? A lot. Evening Observer. April 7, 6.
  9. Davidson Linda Kay, David MGitlitz. 2002. Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  10. Dumas Gerald. 1999. Don’t Call Me Gerald. Smithsonian 30(2): May, 144.
  11. Economist. 1960. What’s in a name? February 13(194): 602–603.
  12. Gutman HerbertG. 1977. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925. New York: Vintage Books.
  13. Jennings Gary. 1967. Personalities of Language. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.
  14. Kaplan Justin, Anne Bernays. 1997. The Language of Names. New York: Simon.
  15. Kissling Elizabeth Arveda and Victoria Leto DeFrancisco. 1993. Naming Our Selves. Women and Language 16(2): Fall 1993.
  16. Lewis JamesR. 1999. Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  17. Nuessel Frank. 1992. The Study of Names: A Guide to the Principles and Topics. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  18. Plato. 1977. Plato in Twelve Volumes. Trans. H. N. Fowler. The Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 4. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  19. Plutschow Herbert. 1995. Japan’s Name Culture: The Significance of Names in a Religious, Political, and Social Context. Kent, England: Japan Library.
  20. Robbins Joel. 2007. Continuity Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture: Belief, Time, and the Anthropology of Christianity. Current Anthropology 48: 5–38.
  21. Rodriguez Junius P, ed, ed. 1997. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  22. Ruane JanetM, Karen ACerulo. 2000. Second Thoughts: Seeing Conventional Wisdom Through the Sociological Eye. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
  23. Stahl Paul H, ed, ed. 1998. Name and Social Structure: Examples from Southeast Europe. Boulder: East European Monographs.
  24. Tournier Paul. 1975. The Naming of Persons. New York: Harper.
  25. US News and World Report. 1980. Zero for 1069. June 2, 8.
  26. van Gennep Arnold. 1960. The Rites of Passage. London: Routledge.