Don’t Say My Name

Don’t say my name

Over the weekend, my life partner and I caught a concert put on by the Sarah Mac Band. The show was quite a bit of fun, and the music – an Americana sound with storyteller style lyrics – was very similar to a lot of my broader collection of tunes. Overall, it was a fun show, the band was in good spirits and celebrating headlining at a venue where they played as an opener earlier in their career, and I had a good time. I could use this space to review the concert itself, the experience in the space, or the night my life partner and I had before, during, and after the show while discussing music and our impressions of the show. Instead, however, I want to focus on a particular song that caught my attention as I drove back to Tampa the following day.

As I often do when I’m enjoying a concert, I spent some time at the merchandise table and picked up a couple new cds of music. On the road the next day, I played these cds as I drove and thought about the week, life, and the show. While I enjoyed the bulk of the music contained on the discs (always a welcome result of blindly buying new tunes), I came across a track on one of their records that I found myself playing over and over again. I honestly cannot recall if the song was played during the show, but it struck a chord in me each time it flowed through my speakers. The song is called “Say my name” and it can found on the band’s album entitled “Florida.” The song caught my attention because the following verse kept getting stuck in my head each time I heard it:

Don’t say my name

            I never gave you

            Any right to

            Call me that

            Don’t say my name

            Its not the same as

            When my mother

            Gave it to me

            When it leaves your lips

            It sounds so brittle and cold

            And unfamiliar 

As someone who does a lot of work on identities, the work people do to define themselves and their situations, and the experiences of sexual, gender, and religious minorities, these words resonated with me, and I found myself thinking of all the many social contexts and experiences they could apply to in a given life. In the song, the person appears to be talking about a failed relationship, but these words speak to wider social processes and definitional endeavors people experience in a wide variety of ways as they seek to claim new selves, adjust existing selves, and / or leave aspects of the self behind.

The experience got me wondering about both (1) the importance of names for given people whether such names are personal monikers, social labels or a combination of the two, (2) the difficulties people face when others call them by labels or names they no longer or never did identify with personally, and (3) the issues, conflicts, and processes that arise when one person’s desire for identification conflicts with the identification practices of other people in relation to that person.

These are each common questions Interactionists wrestle with and analyze in many contexts implicitly and explicitly, but the question I kept returning to involved what might be learned by Interactionist studies about the way people describe and make sense of shifting labels and names over the course of their lives. In what varied situations might the phrase “Don’t say my name” be especially relevant to identity transformations, and what might Interactionists learn from explicit focused attention on such turning points and transformations?

While there has been tremendous focus on such dynamics over time, studies typically focus more on broader labels (i.e., racial, classed, gendered, sexual, religious, and subcultural labels) rather than on actual personalized names.  Especially as more and more people define themselves in fluid terms over the life course, change names for a wide variety of social and political reasons, and experience tensions between how they may appear in a given circumstance and how they see themselves, I wondered what might be gained from Interactionists analyses of times, situations, and circumstances wherein the line in the song – “don’t say my name” – may become especially relevant to personal and social evaluations of given selves and realities.

J. Sumerau

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