Identity is a funny thing. It seems that we spend the first half of our lives trying to answer the question, "Who am I?" We then spend the next half trying to reassure ourselves that it is okay to be "yourself." The Blonde Librarian wrote an interesting post about citizenship, which is one level of identify - your country. It seems that most of us (myself included) identify with a group that is often in conflict with "the other."
My identity seems to be wrapped up in my name. I am named after my grandmothers. Because my mom did not like calling out her mother's name, I was called by my middle name until I was about 11. When I was 11, I decided that I did not like that name. It was too generic and I knew several obnoxious girls with same name. When we moved to a new house and I started a new school, I became "Claire." When teachers and students asked, that was my new answer and I put it on all of my paperwork. My family thought it was weird, but thankfully let me choose my name.
In the months leading up to my marriage, I could not decide if I wanted to change my last name or not. Finally I decided to keep my name just the way it is. I figured that I had been "Claire M. Smith" for 26 years, and I was not going to change overnight into someone else. It had taken 26 years but I was finally comfortable with my name, even my middle name. It was my way of holding on to my identity in face of all the radical changes going on in my life (marriage, move to another country, career shift). Also, the bureaucracy involved in changing your name is ridiculous!! It amazes me that so many women actually do it.
My name causes trouble here in Germany, though. I have a pretty average English name. The Germans cannot handle it. They also don't care for the fact that I use my maiden name. At a street fair, one of the neighbors came up to me and said, "Mrs. Schuette, I presume."
I smiled politely. "Actually it is Ms. Smith."
He laughed. "Oh no, you are Mrs. Schuette."
I just raised an eyebrow. In the neighborhood I am known as the German's wife. The teacher's wife. When anyone calls, they ask for the wife and not the American. I have gotten used to it and now usually let it pass.
What I cannot stand, however, is when my name is "Ein gedeutsched." That means, they take my lovely English name and make it into a German name. My doctor in Kassel used to call me "Klara Schmidt" all the time no matter how many times I corrected him. It happened again yesterday.
I went to the phone company to change some information on my office account. There was a gaggle of girls standing behind the counter. They were perhaps 25? I walked boldly up to the counter and looked them all straight in the eye. One of them reluctantly came around the counter to help me. She went to the computer to look up my information. "Mrs. Schmidt?"
"No. Ms. Smith." (with exaggerated emphasis on the -th)
She stared at me as if to say, "Who the hell are you?" I stared right back as if to say, "I am the person whose business pays your salary." I explained my two problems / issues. She then gave me two telephone numbers to call and get answers to my questions. As I turned around to leave, I said under my breath (in English), "Yes, we wouldn't want you to actually work would we."
Yes, identity is a funny thing. I hate those questions in Blogger that ask me to tell them a little bit about myself. I am always at a loss. For the record, I have no intention of ever giving up my U.S. citizenship. It would be too weird. Part of my identity is my cultural up-bringing and I would never reject that.
So . . . Who am I?
I am Claire M. Smith.