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Star Power in a Name

By tt stern-enzi · September 20th, 2006 · The Alternative
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People laughed when Prince changed his name during the mid-1990s to an unpronounceable symbol that was a combination of the iconic representations of male and female.

Primarily, the move was a sign of protest against the lack of freedom in his new multi-million dollar contract with Warner Bros., the record label that had helped launch his career. But people laughed at the notion that a man with such singular name recognition would dare to lose that for a symbol.

I remember him addressing the issue in an interview and being struck by his interpretation of the simple, yet profound personal impact of the change. He said something to the effect that people showed him more respect.

Those around him, beyond his intimate camp, called him Sir. Such a simple thing. Not, "How are you, Prince," but "How are you, sir." The snickers likely persisted behind his back, but that probably was the case regardless.

Over the course of the last few months, I've confronted a similar situation. I decided to buck tradition and change my name along with my fiancé when we get married.

For us, the reasons were simple. From a writing standpoint, "Clinkscales" works fine on the page, but I was concerned that for her, as a vocalist seeking the elusive branding from recognition, the name might be unwieldy and more of a mouthful. She currently uses her ex-husband's name but felt the time was right, both personally and professionally, to make a clean start.

And I suppose I felt the same. My surname, which I've had my entire life, belongs to a man I've never met. It's a name that my mother and I never shared for any significant period of my life; she reverted to her maiden name not long after their divorce when I was a baby.

So Clinkscales has no profound meaning to me. It's a sign of habit and a certain degree of conformity. I've often found myself searching, when someone has referred to me as "Mr. Clinkscales." Who is Mr. Clinkscales? Where is he? I think I'd like to meet him.

Names mean little to me. Anyone who knows me well would probably have a hard time remembering the last time I referred to them by name, whether in intimate conversation or among a group. Names or official appellations go in one ear and out the other during the meet-and-greet period for me.

I talk to the person. I make connections with the faces and bodies before me.

But when we began our search for a new name, I approached the process from a different perspective. This new name we were choosing for ourselves would, and more importantly should, signify us. It would be our definition of who we are.

When was the last time you thought about making that kind of mark? And romantically speaking, it would be a living valentine and a vow of our own creation.

The name "Stern-Enzi" comes, in part, from her maiden name (Sternheim), which in German means "star." "Enzi" is Swahili and means "power" or "powerful."

I tell people that the resulting combination "star power" was unintended but a happy coincidence. It came to us with little effort and felt right instantly. I took the steps to change my name legally, first ensuring that all she'd have to do was make the simple transition after the wedding.

I've answered questions and heard my share of initial laughs over the change. Women, in growing numbers apparently (based on the recent research of a University of Florida professor), are returning to the tradition of assuming the husbands' names upon marrying. The trend of women maintaining their names and identities from last 20 or 30 years seems to be a brief cultural anomaly.

There's little hard documentation on the number of men who either completely change their names, as I have, or merge two names (with or without hyphenation). Male names are the bedrock of our society and the essence of our identities, even when, thanks to divorce, the names end up meaning next to nothing to the bearer.

People who find it interesting that I, as a man, would be willing to make such a change have proclaimed me "progressive," but it's nothing new to me. Few people actually refer to me by my given name (thankfully, although I'm by no means ashamed of it), mainly close relatives and a choice handful of professionals I work with.

I answer to the family nicknames "t" or "tt," which I finally adopted publicly only when I began freelance writing five years ago.

So tt clinkscales is now tt stern-enzi. You will know me by my name, but I'm looking forward to getting to know the new man behind the moniker.

If India Irie is not her hair, why do I have to be any one name, even if it is full of star power?



CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.
 
 
 
 

 

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