What's in a name?


May 21st 2012

Several years ago, when I created this website I had to come up with a name. I knew I wanted to own the name, to have my own .com, and not be filtered through someone else’s. Some anxiety about being easier to find. Which is ironic. Because I didn’t just go ahead and use my name. I chose marcylit, which was already the moniker I used for my gmail account. I think I understand why I chose it, at least partly. There are two reasons. 

One is that I’ve long had this conflicted desire to be both invisible and seen. There was something scary and powerful about the prospect of deliberately sending my own name out into the ether. Many years ago when I first joined the staff of the Dean’s Office at Duke I was unsettled by the prospect of my signature floating away across campus on little pieces of paper every time a student needed something from the dean. It seemed to open the door to humiliation. It felt like little bits of me breaking off and floating away. At the same time I kind of liked the power that my signature evidently carried. But getting used to that experience at Duke did not prepare me to send my own name out into cyberspace.

The other reason is that I like the metaphor embedded in my chosen web identity. Marcy lit. Marcy is lit up. Through the action of creating this website Marcy is no longer hiding her light under a bushel. It was a little distressing when I discovered that Mary Carr titled her recent memoir, Lit, a memoir that chronicles her journey through alcohol and drugs. But I still like the name, and the metaphor.

It’s also interesting that I chose to obscure the name Litle, one I married into which carries no baggage from my childhood, rather than Marcy. But perhaps not so strange when you know that I chose Marcy when I started seventh grade. It was my first act of personal liberation, the first time I asserted an identity separate from my parents. They had named me Marcella, in honor of my father and grandfather, Thomas Marcellus and Matthew Marcellus respectively, reflecting the profound patriarchism of my heritage. I have resisted that name for as long as I can remember, even though for years people have been telling me how beautiful it is and I can see that they are probably right. But when I was a child, newly transplanted from the mountains of Virginia to the outer suburbs of New York City, it was too different, too ripe for teasing. Marshmallow anyone? My mother called me Marcella until she died, as did everyone who learned my name through her. I endured it. After all, in this culture she did have the right to name me. But even when I grew up and could have flowed into that beautiful adult name I continued to stick with Marcy, the name that I had chosen. Marcylit the web identity that I picked. The one that I have sent floating out into the world on a little thread of hope.