We just use first names at the commune and while the tradition pre-dates me, i certainly understand it. And it creates some small troubles. One of which is that if you show up as a member with the same name as another member, the expectation is you will change your name. Caroline did it instantly and effortlessly, choosing a middle name she had always liked. Others struggle to find something which feels comfortable after never having been called anything else their whole lives.
Yet others, throw the choice to the community and initiate a naming party process. Since my readers seem excited about things community, i thought i would venture into this collective self-description a bit more. The way it works with a naming party is that you decide that you want to change names and you put up a clip board on our O & I board (for Opinions and Information) with a request for suggestions. Creative and less so communards and other people with opinions make suggestions on what you might be called.
Typically, this will draw between 30 and 60 suggestions. Then when the night (because they mostly seem to happen at night) of your naming party shows up, the facilitator (which is with some regularity me) will write up all these names with marker on long sheets of newsprint paper. These are almost always in the hammocks shop so people can make labor credits while doing this fun activity. You as the person who might have this name, gets first crack at eliminating names which you simply know you wont choose. “Viv’s deep dark secret” will almost always get nixed at this point as will “E. Schuyler Flansburgh” if it has somehow managed to make the list. “Styrofoam” and “Moon Unit” are other examples of commune names which typically dont make it passed this first step.
Now similar to the way they do elections in Florida, this is not predictable or fair process. Specifically, over the following several rounds of eliminations, new names will keep getting added in. And sometimes even names which were eliminated will get resurrected in slightly modified forms. And at any time the person who is going to end up with the name can choose to eliminate one under consideration. It is far more important to choose a workable name than it is to get a funny one and an exotic one.
The elimination rounds often have multiple votes and even negative votes. So if there are 30 names left you might get 5 votes and 2 negative votes. The facilitators (myself especially) are occasionally arithmetically impaired, meaning the counts look like elections in Florida as well. We might go thru 4 to 6 elimination rounds before we get down to the last few names. People are encouraged to make dramatic speeches about names they like. We occasionally have tug of wars to resolve close naming parties. I remember Megatron and Optimus Prime battling it out in the hammocks shop at a naming party late one night (Optimus won).
Then once the new name is chosen, the community as a whole does a pretty impressive job of moving to it. Labor sheets switch the next week, accounting quickly turns over, people will often correct other members and within a couple of weeks many are already starting to forget your old name. The community has selected some wonderful names using this technique. River, Jaz, Shade, Suede – all of which would be more impressive if you knew the people who got these names and how it is they fit the personalities.
Sometimes people keep their names for their entire membership and beyond. Other times people are back at a new naming party, or more likely just quietly shift to a new name after having tried this different way to look at themselves.
We name cars and buildings and big pieces of equipment when there are multiples of them using a similar process. When we got the new rope machine and there were two operating side by side, we decided to call the old one “The State” and the new one “God” which has led to an endless series of “God is Dead” notes and “Who broke God?” questions.
Cars have a long history of names which include information about the color of the vehicle. We have a truck called Higher Yellow, there was a pick up called V8 (which was approximately the color of the vegetable drink ) , Navy Gravy, Red Menace, AU is a gold sedan, etc. And there are comic or mocking names. The replacement vehicle for the car that got crashed when the driver tailgated was called “Personal Space”. When we were given a car by the dad of an ex-member who was especially problematic we called it “Guilt Trip”.
What we find in this culture that we are creating is that names have power and rather than just sticking with the one which your parents gave you before there was any real sense as to who you are, choosing one – being intentional about the label you are identified with, can be an affirming and validating choice.