9 Jan 2018

The Big Reveal: What's in a name?

10:28 am on 9 January 2018

When Rose is a name that isn't so sweet.  


Illustration: Pinky Fang

Photo: Illustration: Pinky Fang

How many people in this country have never seen their birth certificate? I hadn’t for 18 years.

We put a lot of trust in our parents. Until a certain age they’re really the only ones who know our true Identity. It’s hard enough growing up and trying to figure out who we really are without waking up one day and finding out that you’ve spent your entire life as someone else.

It all started when I was born. My name was Rose, it’s what my mother always called me, it’s how she introduced me and is also the name of my great-grandmother - something I was constantly reminded of.

The problems began when I was around three. I didn’t like the name Rose and wanted to be called by my middle name, Joan. I have a distinct memory of writing Joan in big letters on the wall, it was something I felt very strongly about.

Since I was getting nowhere at home I took it upon myself to go up to every teacher I had and politely ask them to call me Joan instead.

Most people went along with this and I was hopeful that I really could just change my name except despite my protests, my mum just would not budge on it, it was a family name and something I should be proud of. When I started school, all of my school forms were filled out with Rose as my first name.

Since I was getting nowhere at home I took it upon myself to go up to every teacher I had and politely ask them to call me Joan instead. Most just said “OK” with a weird look on their face and there were no issues after that. Soon my mum found out what I was doing, she tried to get me to stop but I wouldn’t, I hated the name Rose, that was not who I wanted to be.

When I was seven my great-grandmother passed away. For some reason my mum insisted that I read a poem at the funeral, she said I had to, because we shared the same name. That funeral was the first time I realised that just being called something else wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

As my mum took me around the room introducing me as Rose and all of these people knew my great-grandmother and they would talk about how I was named after her and I knew I couldn’t just step in and correct them like I had been doing, it wasn’t the place for it so I would just have to keep my mouth shut for the time being.

This was the beginning of a series of identity changed and crises for me. I had always struggled with who I was since I was a child, I knew I hated the name Rose and that wasn’t me but although I liked the name Joan, that didn’t feel like me either. I didn’t really know who I was anymore and at that age, a name seemed very important to me.

I made the decision to ask everyone to call me Joan whenever I met them, just like with my teachers I would just say my real name is Rose but I prefer Joan, most people understood but I had pretty much given up on my mother ever calling me anything but Rose.

Unfortunately, there were times when I had to just reside in the fact that Joan wasn’t my real name. Such as when I went to get my learner drivers license. They placed a form in front of me and the first question on the page was of course my name. After an internal struggle that lasted a few minutes, I knew I couldn’t use a different name on a legal document and I also had to bring a bank statement and a verified photo which of course both said Rose on them so with little choice I wrote my ‘real name’ and that was what was printed on my learners and later my restricted drivers license.

Every application I filled out required me to send in a birth certificate so I ordered a new one and nothing could really prepare me for what I saw on that piece of paper. It was such a simple mistake, I almost missed it.

Life went on for me after that, Mum continued to call me Rose no matter what I would do and admittedly at that point I would get quite agitated, but she was my mum and as I got older my name felt like it wasn’t worth the arguments anymore.

Soon it was time for me to start applying for university. Every application I filled out required me to send in a birth certificate so I ordered a new one and nothing could really prepare me for what I saw on that piece of paper. It was such a simple mistake, I almost missed it. I thought maybe on birth certificates they print the middle name before the first name, but after thinking about it for a few minutes I realised that couldn’t be right.

The first thing I did was confront my mother, I just said “Mum, is my first name actually Joan?” and without missing a beat she replied “Yeah, but I’ve always preferred Rose.”

Just like that everything I had struggled with my entire life, all the times I would have to tell people to call me a different name, all the private meetings with teachers, all the arguments with my mum were reduced to nothing. My name was and had always been Joan after all.

Next came all the questions, I just had an abundance of questions to try to piece together how this could’ve possibly happened. It just didn’t feel real, nothing made sense anymore, I looked down at my driver’s license and saw a name that wasn’t my own, I don’t even know if that ID was valid. It was hard because my mother has always been an “anything for a quiet life” type woman and because she never made a big deal out of it, I had no choice but to also not make a big deal out of it, her only defence was that she was my mother and she liked the name.

Eventually, I turned to my dad for answers. My parents got divorced when I was four and as he’s an international software developer, he was never really around much. When I did see him growing up, he would always call me Joan, I thought that was because I asked him too, I was quite wrong. When I confronted him he just replied: “Of course I know your name is Joan, I named you.”

And just like that things started to make sense. I could begin to piece together a story of my mum desperately wanting to call me Rose after her grandmother but my father convincing her to make it my middle name. Except after my father left, there was nobody to really stop my mum calling me the name she had always wanted.

At age 18 I was once again facing an opportunity to reinvent myself, and in proper Joan fashion that’s exactly what I did. I could finally embrace the identity I had wanted for so many years. Which involved a last name, Sloan, that now rhymed with my first name.

Luckily I always thought Joan Sloan sounded like a rockstar name and I liked it. I could now become the rock star I always wanted to be and head off to uni happy and for once in my life secure with who I was.

Seven years on and I can’t believe the trouble my name had caused me growing up. Our adolescent years are pretty hard anyway but I was dealing with some pretty severe identity crises but I can tell you what a relief it is to no longer have to explain to people that yes that is my first name but I would like to be called by my middle name.

I was actually pretty lucky that the reveal didn’t cause me too much trouble as I had already been asking people to call me Joan for years, there wasn't too much of a mess to clean up. Although it still wasn’t easy because there were just so many things set up for me with the name Rose, bank accounts, my license, emails.

Once that was all sorted out I felt an enormous sense of relief, I had the name that I’d always wanted after all.

* As told to Devon Bolger. Edited for clarity and brevity.