Someone in a magical space recently called me by the name that appears on my birth certificate, That Other Name. I never gave them permission to do that. I’m not sure why they felt it necessary to use that name. I’ve been asked more times than I can remember “is Gwion your real name?”. Yes. Yes it is. It’s my real name. I chose it. It’s what I want to be called. It is the name I write under. It’s the name I teach with. You can send me cheques made out to Gwion and the bank will happily cash them. It’s my name. Call me by my name.
Forty years ago, That Other Name of mine was up in lights on marquees at the most prestigious theatres in London. That Other Name was listed in the credits of television programmes and highlighted in the Rolodexes of casting agents, directors and producers. A great many people knew That Other Name. They all wanted a piece of me. An autograph. A photograph with their arms wrapped around me. A lock of hair (really). But I loved That Other Name and what it stood for.
I worked steadily under That Other Name. I built the beginnings of a promising acting career. I made my agent a fair amount of money and actually funded my parent’s emigration to the United States.
Forty years ago, I was woken up in the middle of the night. Someone said That Other Name, the one on the birth certificate. Then they sexually abused me. They continued to do this for several more years. They always said That Other Name when they woke me up.
When I was fifteen and inconceivably found myself alone with my abuser, they said, “no matter how famous you get, no matter what you do in life, you’ll always be my little That Other Name.” In that moment, in that precise moment, I knew that That Other Name and my fame and the abuse would be inextricably linked together. That at any time, if my abuser uttered That Other Name, my accomplishments, my hard work, everything I had become and built and slogged so hard to create would be dashed and diminished and would belong to them. I would always be their little That Other Name. I would be owned for as long as That Other Name existed.I didn’t step foot on a theatre stage again for nearly 15 years.
So I became Gwion. The little boy that found himself running from a power much bigger than himself. A little boy that, through an unlikely confluence of events, found himself to have the extraordinary prowess to reinvent himself when circumstances demanded that he change into something else. When the forces in the world were conspiring to rip him in two, and bite into his flesh, even to swallow him whole. Gwion knew how to change. As do I.
When I tell you my name is Gwion, I mean that my name is Gwion. It’s not made up. It’s not my preferred name or my pretend name. That Other Name is not me. No one gets to call me That Other Name.
I know many people that have changed their names to protect themselves. I know many people that have decided they want to be known as someone else because their birth name no longer serves who they are or the magic they do in the world, or perhaps it never did.
If someone you know and care about changes their name, no matter what you think of their new name or the reasons they changed it, call them by the name they have chosen. Really. Do it. Just do it. Don’t argue. Don’t say that you’ll call them one thing in public and another in private. It’s not for you to decide.
Names have power. In my case, it quite literally gives me the power to survive and overcome.
My name is Gwion. When you say it you are honoring all that I have worked to become.