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When naming rights matter


When naming rights matter

Jane Stephens understands that some names are more than just words and can have a painful history.

“What’s in a name?” asked William Shakespeare. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Maybe, but names do matter.

K’gari has officially shed the name ‘Fraser Island’ – a step that will help remedy the damage done by the fabricated stories of Eliza Fraser. It is still the same island we love, but the new handle is not hurtful to the Butchulla people, who were disrupted and devastated after Mrs Fraser lied, claiming they had tortured and detained her.

Reverting to K’gari is right, respectful and a real step in reconciliation. For those of us who love the island (my husband and I are so enamoured, we honeymooned there), her uniqueness, rugged wildness, open skies and beaches feel better wearing an ancient name, bestowed by those who have known her since the beginning of time.

The names we humans go by can matter as well. I had a primary school friend called Nicola – a perfectly lovely name, except that she had a dreadful stammer and would get stuck whenever she said it. As soon as she was old enough and empowered enough, she chose a name that she could say – Abby. Her husband and friends celebrated with a welcome party.

My parents chose a first name for me that they never planned on using in daily life, preferring to call me by my middle name from birth. I regard Elizabeth as a kind of alter-ego, I suppose – a moniker that only makes an appearance on formal or official occasions. It is linked to me, but is not me exactly.

It is something I have had to spend my life explaining in every interaction from talking to Telstra to coming out of a general anaesthetic. After toying with changing it by deed poll a few times in my life, I have come to accept my odd nominal arrangement as just another painless peculiarity about me.

But sometimes names are reminders of pain. Some students in my UniSC classes have chosen their own names – sometimes as a step towards a different gender identity or a step away from a trauma or great unhappiness. The change is not an insult to those who named them, but an embracing of the person’s own label and identity.

So while Shakespeare was right – a rose would smell as sweet, even if it were called an armpit – sometimes a name change can be healing.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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