I have been plucking my name apart, rearranging and redesigning my signature, since I was in middle school. I had a dream of becoming a fashion designer, convinced that everyone would soon know of the some-day-renowned “House of García.” At the time, I loved the sound of my own last name. Now, altering my last name is a pastime that I have come to enjoy. I still manage to fumble around Gabriela Nicole García Sánchez when it’s time to sign something new. Deciding on which combination of the four parts of my name fits best is liberating, almost like having an option of what to wear. It’s freeing to play around with my own name like an author choosing what to call a new character. When I toy with my own label, I can revel in finding the new arrangement with which I can honor the intersectionality within my identity. However, I often feel that these changes can simultaneously restrict me.
Names lack individuality – like every other label. They are all used, just like the clothes that you find at a thrift store. Some names have resonance if they manage to hold power as they’re passed down. When I was younger, I thought that I had hit the lotto of generic names. There was always another Gabriela or Gabby in my class and there were even a few people with the same surname. Although I now love the full name my parents gave me, I used to wish I had a “fancy” or different full name. I wanted something that would force a person to pause in order to learn how it was pronounced, kind of like my grandmother’s maiden name: Vizcarrondo. I now believe that my obsession with my name stems from the anxiety surrounding finding a perfect label that would dedicate me to a single role.
As an eclectic person, shuffling through names is my way of fashioning a title for each part of myself. The painter in me is not the same as the writer or the student. Therefore, the work I produce should be signed as such. When I finish a new painting, I find that I tuck only my initials into the corner of my canvases. Since I tend to work on small to medium canvases, I find that I’d rather not take up space with my, admittedly long, name. I love the way that my initials partially remove me from my own work. If I ever reach a level of success with my art, I would not want my viewers to see my full name. I would rather them see the art in whatever context they wish to give to it, not matter what response that creates. By limiting my signature to initials, I aspire to foster a space where viewers can experience the piece as a stand-alone – not in association with the name in the corner of the canvas.
As a student, I’ve never seen much point in changing my basic first and first-surname combination until I started taking creative writing classes. In my science lectures, I found that it was always been unnecessary to share my middle name or second-surname. Those details felt too personal for me to reveal in that type of learning environment. However, when I started taking writing workshops I found that my attitude towards my name changed.
Writing poetry has always been an intimate experience for me. When it came time to decide the best way to sign a piece, I created the name that I now use over the course of many stages. In the beginning, I would only use my middle name. Now, I find that I use both of my surnames to tether my poems down – almost like an anchor for the piece. For a while I didn’t understand why I chose to do this. Part of me thought it was a way of honoring my Boricua heritage through my inclusion of both my father and mother’s surnames. I even began putting the accent marks in my name so that people would know the correct spelling and pronunciation of those names. Lately, I’ve continued using both of my last names in order to separate my work from another García’s. Although I haven’t been published (yet), I imagine I’ll run into issues if I choose to use only García when I sign my pieces. Even though I wish I could be related to a famous writer like Gabriel García Marquez, I still wouldn’t want to create any confusion around who I am or what I wrote because of how similar our names begin.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to write, paint, and work under a pen name instead of using any parts of my legal name. Many writers, artists, and actors have been successful in doing so. Here I think of famous artists such as Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Caravaggio, Marilyn Monroe, and Rihanna. The art of naming has lasted for centuries and will continue to persist. Shakespeare’s Juliet said it rather well with, “What’s in a name?” While her concerns lie with loving a boy that was born of the enemy’s name, and mine are shaped in the labels that I can decide to give myself, both are concerned with the importance of naming. And so, I ask myself as well as you, what is the motivation behind your name?