Truth, Names, and Choice

I don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions anymore. They’re too much pressure, and the emphasis on success or failure to achieve some arbitrary change no longer seems like a particularly helpful way of approaching things. But it’s still nice to see a new year as an opportunity to begin some new project, or set oneself on a new path.

Last year, I wrote a post (now consigned to oblivion along with the rest of the blog archive) about how I wanted my focus for 2019 to be on peace — making peace with myself, but also choosing more peaceful paths in life general, and thinking about my commitment to the idea. I don’t know how well I succeeded at that; possibly I’d have done better had I remembered that particular declaration more frequently. But I did find myself pondering it now and again, and I certainly thought a lot about violence and pacifism in my writing, and what stories I wanted to tell.

This year, I decided that my theme would be honesty.

(I’m not intentionally working my way through all the Quaker testimonies — peace, equality, simplicity, truth, sustainability — but now that I’ve started, I can see the value in carrying on this way… I could certainly use to tackle ‘simplicity’ before my book-hoarding tendencies become entirely overwhelming.)

Honesty is a tricky one. Honesty is as much about being truthful with myself as it is about telling the truth to others. I am great at lying to myself, justifying unhealthy behaviours or excusing away negative thought patterns. I’m also good at letting indecisiveness prevent me from ever living a truly honest existence, and I’m so afraid of being impolite that I’ll tell a dozen white lies and half-truths just to avoid saying something that might be construed as rude.

Anxiety. It can really get in the way of the best intentions.

This year, then, is about being honest. About admitting what I want and doing what I need to do to achieve that. About telling people how I feel, and living with the temporary discomfort of those conversations rather than the longterm resentment of not having had them. About declaring who I am, and then having the courage to stand up for myself about that. Correcting people about pronouns, rather than letting it slide because it’s easier to live with the discomfort of untruth than the potential awkwardness of the correction. Balancing safety (never speaking up) with truth (being who I am).

As part of that, I changed my name.

Changing your name by deed poll in the UK is a remarkably undramatic affair. Despite the scary legalese of the document itself, that isn’t actually an essential part of the process (you can just as effectively write on the back of an envelope “hi my name is [x] now” and as long as it’s signed and witnessed, it’s theoretically valid). The fancy wording and posh paper can be helpful in persuading banks and other organisations that the deed poll itself is legit, though, which makes it sometimes worth doing.

I’ve been considering changing my name for a long time, but I’d concluded there was no real rush. Most people seemed happy to call me Finn if I asked them to, and since I’m almost always read as female, my name wasn’t exactly outing me — even if it did lead people to make assumptions about my gender that I didn’t want them to make. I figured I could wait until my passport was nearer to its expiry date, and then do the change, so as to minimise the cost of updating it.

But that wouldn’t be until 2026, and that wait had started to feel too long. I’m working on applications for MAs at the moment, which made me realise that when I get another degree, I want it to be in a name that feels like me. I want to write Finn Longman on academic articles, and have the weight of authority behind it. I’m querying at the moment, and when I hopefully sign with an agent, I want that to be a name that feels truthful, too. Not one that feels temporary and incomplete, missing a major part of my identity.

So, in the light of all that, Finn is now my middle name. I know quite a lot of people who go by their middle names — my boss, for one, and a close friend of mine. Now, I guess, I’m one of them, in most contexts.

I thought long and hard about the change, and whether or not I should commit fully and make Finn my first name, but in the end this seemed like the best option. I didn’t want to let go of my first name entirely — not only is it important to my parents, but it has significance to me, too. It’s a connection to part of my heritage that I’m not willing to leave behind at this stage. But if I made that my middle name, I ended up with slightly unfortunate initials, and it didn’t flow as well as this way around.

I thought about keeping my old middle name, too: Joy. But it didn’t seem to fit, and I couldn’t make it sound nice. Letting go of Joy was more difficult than I expected — nobody in my family has ever called me by it, but it was a part of my authorial identity for several years, and I guess I’m more attached to it than I thought. There’s something symbolic in it, though, to let go of the ‘joy’ that is expected of me and to find my own, instead, to seek it where I think it’s meant to be instead of having it imposed.

I guess keeping my first name just seems less risky. After all, there’s the plausible deniability of not having changed my first or last name that will make my life much easier if I forget to update my name on one account or another — a fair few accounts don’t even use the middle name. Maybe it’s cowardice, but I think it’s compromise — finding a truth that works for me. Yes, it seems like a lot of money to replace my passport (not due to expire until 2026) for the sake of a middle name, but on the plus side, that’s six fewer years of having blue hair and an undercut in my passport photo, which is probably a good thing.

It was a small change, really, swapping three letters for four, but it was a difficult one nonetheless. That’s why I did it this weekend, when I had friends in town for a conference who could act as my witnesses and encourage me to go through with it.

And so, in the end, I signed my deed poll in the pub.

Photo of a short-haired person with glasses (me) holding a signed sheet of paper (my deed poll) and smiling widely.

Here’s to making 2020 the year I’m honest, with myself and with the world. We all have our truths to live, and this is a small part of mine.


    • Finn Longman says:

      I got asked once (by someone who only knew me as Finn) whether I was the youngest child and therefore whether my parents had called me “Finn” to declare that they were done with the whole thing… I had to admit that I *am* the youngest child, but my parents had nothing to do with this name.

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