Recently, I had been filling a couple of forms for online courses, portals, payments and digital services (as these are the new normal now). An obvious prerequisite requirement in these cases is name. The details of the name are collected in various formats – some platforms require it in one go, as full name, others ask for it separately, as name and surname, and some even make a provision for the ‘middle name’. Similar to most cases, I too have hastily and unconsciously filled these blanks on the screen, to ensure the task is completed before the ‘session expires’. To me this filling up of the name had become a very ‘thinkless’ process. Enter > Save > Next > Successfully Completed.
It is probably in this repetitive process of writing my name, countless times in several places, papers, screens and pages, that I realized, it did not require much cognitive corroboration. This is because my name has embedded itself in my mind as a default setting. In contrast, I reflected on the immense care I had put into writing my bio and curriculum vitae. It demanded a comparatively rigorous process of going through every word, detail, fact and punctuation and an obvious self-reflection of – Is it a bit too much? Going one step closer, when I think about it, I really had no say in choosing my own name, it was carefully selected with care and I unobjectionally made it mine by committing it to my memory and internalising it as a core to define myself. In my own life, given my cross-cultural background, I constantly negotiate between my name and person, and have in some cases boldly proceeded to either change or customize it. A strong provocation of this was in naming my twitter handle.
While creating my twitter account, I tried several permutations and combinations to get a unique user name. I typed in my full name, it was already in use, then my first name with my select numbers, that too was taken. Twitter, familiar with this dilemma of new users, was being kind in suggesting several options with a combination of my name and other numbers. Eventually to just ensure the task was completed before the ‘session expired’, I settled for one of it’s many options. After logging in a couple of times, I would stare hard at my user name and felt a motionless frown on my face. I am definitely not 'handling the handle' with this name, I declared to myself. I kept thinking about how I could switch it around in a way that was unique. This contemplative exercise took some time. It left me pondering on the significance of my name and it’s representation. I was more than just letters and numbers arbitrarily chosen and put together. It was during this time that I reflected on the meaning of my surname – Fitzgerald. I had done this exercise several times but this was definitely the first time I had thought about it while wearing the ‘cross-cultural’ hat.
The word Fitzgerald stems from a combination of Irish and British traditions. To better understand it’s meaning the word can be broken into two smaller distinct words – Fitz, a kind of prefix meaning ‘son of’ and Gerald, the progenitor of the clan/dynasty called Geraldine in Ireland and Wales. Therefore, essentially the meaning translates into ‘the son of Gerald’. While this is an accurate, literal description of the word Fitzgerald, I somehow felt that I was not really a ‘son’ of Gerald but rather a ‘daughter’. This prompted me to look for the feminine version of ‘Fitz’, and wonder if it is used as a surname. It led me to discover the word ‘fila’, the feminine of ‘fitz’, meaning ‘daughter of’. Content with my self-discovery and without further hesitation, I decided to incorporate filagerald into my twitter handle. I found it interesting, true and real in many ways.
Filagerald is my alter-ego. I cannot clearly identify the source that provoked me think this out. I think my most recent research on cross-cultural families and more importantly my positionality as a feminist geographer within it takes the most credit. This positionality initially made me question my location and then consciously led me to situate myself in the overlap of my father’s ‘Anglo-Indian’ city and mother’s ‘Malayali’ hometown. While I am getting comfortable in this ambiguity, it is very unsettling for most, who often reply – “basically you’re an Anglo-Indian, like a mixture of both”. I always question the binary, my thinking resonates with this question - Why just one side? especially when the parental background is varicoloured with the hues of different cultures.
Maybe the idea of my alter-ego also stems from the heavy underpinnings of my default setting ‘FitzGerald’ and it’s representation of having consciously grown up acknowledging being ‘the son’. Metaphorically speaking, it made me resonate more strongly with my paternal culture. I acknowledge living a majority of my life in one binary because I was patriarchally structured in my way of thinking. It’s only recently, maybe two years ago, that I migrated towards the overlap of the binary and now in the process of settling within it. Further, while officially and literally my name does mean ‘son of’, in practice and reality, I am a daughter. My ways of working, caring, seeing and doing are principally based around this role as daughter. This aligns me more strongly with ‘fila’. While most think it is a softer position – I would urge them to believe it is a contrasting position, an alternative position, a unique position, and not a competitive one. *smiles*
My alter-ego is still in the process of being formed and voiced. I intend on using it more often, openly and in further writing. While I spent a while on thinking about my person, I am now asking you – Does your person have an alter-ego too?