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Say My Name

As a great artist once said “say my name, say my name.”

Personal identity is a concept that grows and evolves over time: a change that is inherently different from person to person.

I find that I am asked about my personal identity in many forms on a frequent basis throughout my day to day life. Whether this be through job applications or even a simple “getting to know you” ice breaker at the start of a new event or gathering, I am constantly faced with addressing how I personally identify myself and how I wish to portray this personal identity to others.

When asked about my personal identity, the questions can vary from an array of topics including my gender, preferred pronouns, race, place of residence, occupation, or more, the list is seemingly endless. And while I initially believed my answers to these questions would remain the same throughout my life, I have learned that that is not always the case for myself and especially not for other people.

One aspect of my personal identity that has remained the same throughout my life and, in my opinion, the most simple identification for who I am is my name.

From the very moment that I was born, and arguably before my birth even took place, I was given a first and a last name as the most simple way for others and myself to identify who “I am”.

I remember at a very young age complaining to my parents that I didn’t like the name “Talia” and that I wanted a prettier, lengthier name with a sweet nickname that all of my friends could refer to me with. However, I soon learned, much like many other aspects of my identity, some parts of our identity are decided, chosen, or given to us without our input far before we are capable of possessing an opinion on the matter. Just as much as I had no control over my first and last name, I also had no control over the fact that I was born in Manhattan Beach, California into a Jewish family. Or that I was born with white skin and a vagina and therefore told that this defined both my race and gender.

It became clear that as I got older, I had the power and the ability to decide how I wanted to identify myself and how I wanted others to identify me as well. I soon realized that there are hundreds and thousands of other people who many not like or identify with their given forms of identity such as their name, race, gender and so on. And while I eventually, came to love the name “Talia” I knew plenty of others who found a stronger connection to a name that may not have been given to them from birth. My young self was enthused and excited by this freedom to choose what I wanted and what I felt connected and portrayed my personal identity.

This sense of unwavering and unquestionable freedom that I had associated with my identity was challenged one afternoon when I sat in the kitchen eating breakfast with my family in the 7th grade. I was flirting with different slogans I planned to use as I ran for a position on Student Government and joked about how they would one day be used when I ran my victorious campaign for President far in the future.

“This is just the first step! And when I run for President, I will tell the whole world how I created this perfect slogan when I was just a little girl running for a small position in my Middle School Student Government,” I exclaimed to my Dad as I triumphantly wagged my cereal spoon in the air and flashed a giddy childish grin.

“Okay Tal, let’s hear it!” He pressed me to finally reveal the slogan.

“Vote Talia Horrow for a Better Tomorrow!” I declared my slogan with pride and excitement. I was convinced this would be the phrase that I would use forever.

My Dad smiled and laughed and repeated the slogan with me, showing his evident support and approval. “It’s perfect. And all the more reason for you to keep your last name even after marriage! I am counting on you because otherwise the Horrow last name will come to an end.”

I sat confused for a moment and listened as my Dad explained that because I had two sisters and no brothers that the three of us would likely take our husband’s surname after marriage and the Horrow lineage would end with us. As I let this idea sit with me I began to protest his statement, questioning why the wife had to take the husband’s last name and why the kids that came from MY body would not be raised with the last name that I was raised with.

It seemed unfair to me that the part of my identity that has never changed, my first and last name, would have no choice but to be altered because society said so. Even more, I felt I was being told that someday I would have to make a choice between accepting my husband’s name as a part of tradition or continue my connection to my family name and the history of ancestry that had come before me.

I began to think about all that my Grandfather had to endure to keep his last name, a treasured piece of his identity, many years prior. When my Grandpa opened up his first car dealership in the middle of suburban New Jersey in the wake of the second World War, he faced months of challenges with car sales. He found that people did not wish to buy a car from a dealership by the name of “Horowitz Automobiles”. He was told his last name was “too Jewish” and that this was the reason his sales were unsuccessful. Eventually, he changed his surname to “Horrow”, a simplified and shortened version of his name, hoping to hide the “Jewish” nature of his identity in pursuit of better business. When the name change proved to be more than successful, my Father was born with the formally given surname of “Horrow”. This story and evolution of my name gave me a connection to my family history and a reminder of the resilience of my Grandfather even in the face of hate.

How could I be expected to throw this name away? A name that I have typed at the top of all of my school papers, scribbled at the top of every application or doctor’s note, or even declared proudly upon introducing myself to a new face. This name was just as much a piece of “who I am” as my skin color, religion, and genitals. If I was not being asked to change those aspects about myself upon marrying my husband, then why did I have to change my name?

This question is one that has sat with me since that early Autumn morning in the 7th grade and continues to make its way to my thoughts every time I playfully talk about my future and my life when I am “all grown up with kids of my own”. While I don’t know how I will address this internal conflict and question when the time comes, I know for a fact that when Destiny’s Child drops a beat I will proudly say that my name is Talia Horrow.

I am a rising senior at GWU originally from LA and I am extremely passionate about the gendered dimensions of international conflict. If I’m not writing about or discussing this topic you can most likely find me adorned in the color purple, working on my newly found love for vegan cooking/baking and teaching yoga classes virtually!

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