Identity – Merriam-Webster defines it as 1: the fact or condition of being exactly alike : sameness 2: distinguishing character or personality : individuality.
Sameness and individuality. How ironic that the word itself seems to be confused about what it should be.
With the exception of a few close friends who would rather call me Martin in a kingly inflection, everyone I know calls me Marty. I like that name. I don’t know a lot of Marty’s, and I like to think that none of my friends do either. I like to think I’m some kind of rarity because of my possessively held five letters. Mine. In my world all other Marty’s are derivative and not as worthy of friendship.
I always remember a paragraph from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five where he explains an inherent benefit from having a name that ends in an “ie” sound. Billy Pilgrim is his character. A man who opts to be called Billy and not William because Billy is subconsciously associated to a child’s name. It sounds innocent and likeable and as if you’re already friends with the person, as all “ie” sounding names do. I seem to remember it reading: “It makes people like you more.” Which I believe to an extent.
My father was named after his father, and in an honorable fashion I too am named after my grandfather. The roman third. It’s a wonderful thing to have a heritage like this. I remember as a boy watching home videos at a family reunion. On the screen was my grandfather. He sat at a table with large framed glasses and read a letter from my dad. A beautiful letter (as I remember it) that expressed love and adoration as well as sound and unchallengeable reasons for naming his first and only son (me) Marty. I remember my Aunt Mary scrubbing her hand through my hair as we watched the video. All my aunts were crying, some uncles, some cousins. I didn’t quite get it yet, but the whole family knew when watching this video that something powerful was happening. Something monumental.
This was the home video to end all home videos. Here in this short and simple moment was captured generations of familial love and commitment and honor and pride and tradition and strength. It was a bond that only family can truly have. The adults knew and understood that it was magic. Deep magic.
It makes me happy to think about that moment and to think about my grandfather, who I loved dearly. It is a wonderful thing to have my name, a portion of my identity, as a tribute to him. A man that my family recognizes as a legend and all around remarkable human (I agree with these credits wholeheartedly).
My name is also tied directly to my father—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the dentist and had to clarify, “No, my teeth are the other ones.” Sharing an exactly identical name is challenging. I don’t think my parents thought much about this challenge. In fact, I’m sure that they didn’t. I’ve heard the reasoning for naming me this, but there wasn’t a lot of second guessing that decision. I’ve asked. It was a passionate choice, and I believe right.
My surname also has some pronunciational challenges associated with it. I’ve been called everything from Sheen-beer to Shown-a-burger. I’m fairly certain most of my closest friends can’t pronounce my name—this makes it convenient to be the only Marty in their world, which of course I always am (I long ago green-lighted Operation Eliminate the Others. Just kidding. Probably…).
Another challenge is that my dad is also a writer like me. Or, I suppose, I’m a writer like him if I’m to be objective. He’s more prolific and not as talented. Wink wink. (I love you, Dad!)
We both write about a lot of things, my dad and I. Often we disagree, because I’m his son and he’s my father and that happens. There’s not much more to say here.
I nod to Heller for the lose-lose catch of this identity—sameness and individuality. See, I don’t want to write like my father. I don’t want to write about the same things as my father. Nor do I want to attempt to live up to the legacy of my family’s patriarch. I can make my own expectations, and I want to. I want to write like me. About things that are important to me. And I want my audience to take me for that. For me. For who I am and what I have to say. As important or unimportant as it may be.
This is a bromide declaration to make, and I feel small with it. But I need to make it.
I can hear my inner, self-defeating voice say: “Where do you get off wanting an identity to write with? And who says you’ve got anything important to say anyhow?” I don’t know. I don’t know at all. But I want it, damn it. I want my own identity. I’ve wanted it for a long time. I want my name to be mine.
It has nothing to do with a disgraced feeling or an unwanted connection to my father or grandfather or, God forbid, my extended family. I love my family, and am proud of my name. I’m proud of my dad. But I don’t want to write under that shared name again.
I want to write under my own name. A name of my making. A name not inherited but of my creation. Of my reasons. A name I don’t have to live up to. A name I can disappoint or succeed with. As Whitman said: I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
So I’m “changing” my name. Not in the legal sense, but in a sense that to me is greater than legality. I’m changing it from a place in my heart that believes that everyone should have the right to change. To be who they were meant to be and want to be. A place that believes in a chance to try alone.
I need to go out as solitary human and see what I have. Disconnected. Unassociated. Unaided and unhindered. I need a chance to be pronounced clearly, to be known apart.
I have no delusions. I know that I will always be tied to some things. I realize that no one is giving this identity to me. But my hand isn’t open, it’s closed. I’m taking this. Taking it as a right of my individuality.
The question now–what’ll it be?
This: Like most of my ideas, movies and books are quickly close by as validation. I think of some of my favorites: Into the Wild (Chris McCandless becomes Alexander Supertramp), Slaughterhouse-Five (William to Billy), Almost Famous (Lady Goodman to Penny Lane), and Dead Poets Society. One of my favorite characters from DPS (or any film) is Charlie Dalton. Charlie renames himself Nuwanda in the same spirit that I want to rename myself. Moreover it is a spirit of courage and rebellion and self-knowing and, actually, camaraderie. Kinship with all the other people willing to be and become themselves.
I have no second guesses. That’s what I want to own as mine. That spirit and a name that I feel embodies it.
I don’t think most of my fans will miss my “old name” – most can’t pronounce it anyway. Generally, I’m just that one poet named Marty Something (I know from the data that a lot of you are simply looking for “Marty S push lyrics”) I trust my family will understand. My friends probably expect as much from me.
As for me, I am creating something I’ve always needed. Something that I’ve wanted for far too long. Something mine. Identifiably me. Sameness and individuality.
So gladly I sign:
Marty S. Dalton
P.S. It will take a while to change things like Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/SPP/etc. please be patient and not confused