Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vesta Versus

Name changes are awkward. For the past two years, I've been slowly, gradually, awkwardly gravitating toward switching over to Vesta. If you haven't known me long, then maybe that's the only name you know me by, and that's awesome; about six months ago, it finally started to click. I have not been too terribly insistent, but that's just because I'm not an insistent person. In fact, I'm not an insistent person to such an extreme that it can be to my detriment. Then it occurred to me recently, I've explained my reasons and my desires to a few inquisitive individuals, but I haven't given any publicly accessible explanations. And doing exactly that is a huge chunk of the POINT of being a writer with a blog. So, that's happening now.

I've known dozens of Saras. I've been tired of being one of them for many years. But why Vesta? I've known since I was fourteen and learning about mythology in Latin class that if I ever had the balls to change my name, it would be to Vesta. The first and foremost reason is pure aesthetics. It sounds good, it looks good, and the sound of the syllables doesn't differ drastically from my real name. V has always been the most appealing letter to me (and that's why I think it's awesome that Todd simply calls me V). Vanity Vagina Vivisection Virgin Vixen Vivacious Verbs! Aside from the pure aesthetics, I've found a lot of meaning in the linguistic and mythological meaning of Vesta, and they may not be quite what you'd expect. Yeah, yeah, vestal virgins, goddess of the hearth, that's all great but it's not what interests me. The root of the name is the same as vest, vestment, and, yes, transvestite. The connection between clothing and the hearth is warmth and protection. Fire and flocks of virgins aside, when I apply the name less to Roman mythology and more to myself, I see the "vest-" root as referencing clothing, your woven self, your outer self. And that's very much what the name is to me; I put it on like I put on clothing, like I wear my identity, but that doesn't make it any less genuine or legitimate. And to drive the comparison further, I'm not afraid of being nude much like I'm not trying to deny that my real name exists. It just has less personal meaning, and is less creatively charged.

The very first time I used Vesta publicly was two years ago, when I modeled for Von Gutenberg, which I wrote about here. I really needed something like that to come along and push me toward making that choice. Modeling with a pseudonym seemed less drastic and less pretentious than randomly telling my friends to call me by a new name; but partially for that very reason, it didn't get used much after that, except on facebook.

One year ago, I joined the Sideshow Sirens, for which everyone has stage names. I, of course, used Vesta, and that allowed me to start throwing it around more frequently and publicly. But it was still hard to say, hey, this may not be just a stage name. But as we develop the show further, and the characters become more concrete and less you-but-doing-a-stunt (plus a ton of other troupe variables), I may have to take Vesta back. Because that's me, not just a sideshow persona.

Last Halloween, I gogo danced at the Grimm Fairytale Ball, and requested to be referred to only as Vesta in the promotions. I think that may have prompted the transition to using it more in regular life. Clearly, each of these steps was related to public performance. It's not that I ever wanted a separate performance persona, it's just that it's a much easier and widespread way to declare a new name. But let's be honest, performing (in whatever capacity) is something that I enjoy pursuing to a certain extent, but it's not something that I do a whole lot of. It's not the center of my life, and I don't really want it to be. The point being, I can't rely solely on that to perpetuate Vesta for me; it's something I have to call attention to in private, with individuals, if I really want this to happen. And a handful of people made the switch instantaneously, which frankly shocked me, in a good way. I really appreciate that.

The biggest snag I've run into in this transitional period is my own awkwardness. In group situations where new people are involved, and some friends call me by each name, or if they all still call me Sara, but I don't want to meet any new people under that name, I will actively avoid introducing myself. This is bad. It's the opposite of the empowering effect that Vesta is supposed to have. The problem is that I worry that I will appear pretentious to the old friends, and it will be confusing to the new people, if I tell them a name that no one else calls me. So I let the awkwardness reign, which I need to not do anymore. This is my resolution to stop that.

I do believe that I am my biggest obstacle. It is beautifully clear that my friends respect me and my desires, and that most of the hangups are mine. Aside from the people who instantly and seamlessly made the switch, the most widespread response I've gotten is a variation of, "If that's what you want, I'll do it. But I can't promise to succeed at first. Is this actually what you want?" To which I've given some wishy washy replies of, "Yeah, it's what I want, but not if it feels too weird to you. It's a weird thing." I've had several friends insist that I be more insistent. I appreciate that. It means that you are looking out not only for my desires, but pushing me past my own shortcomings. Overall, this will be positive.

There are some arenas in which I need advice from people who don't use their given name socially, of which I know many. One is when introducing myself to someone who will be handling my credit card or ID, or if my full name is going to appear on a list (like a class list or a guest list). If I were someone else giving me advice, I would say, just tell them what you want. You're probably not the first person to go by something other than their given name, and you won't be the last. It's not as awkward as you think it is. But I over think it so much, that my given name becomes the "easy" way out. But it also leaves me feeling like I let myself down.

The experience of introducing myself to strangers with an "unconventional" name has been pretty eye-opening. Having grown up with one of the most common names out there, it always registers as exactly what it is to strangers' ears, even in loud clubs and chaotic situations, because the name Sara is so culturally ingrained. Everybody knew a few before they met me. Nobody got confused, asked about it, or asked me to repeat it. And this has been my entire life. It has really been catching me off guard when people now ask me to repeat myself, spell it, and then have something to say about it. Some variations I've gotten have been Vessa, Veska (which actually sounds pretty cool), and Vanessa. It's just so strange to think that this has been the way of the world for people with unusual given names, basically since they could talk. The experience is just so different. It's not negative, but it's taking adjustment.

I want to thank everyone who has been so accommodating, and to thank those who are about to embark upon the transition. Vesta signing out.

Further evidence of the reign of V's: Vicious Victorian Vampire Villain Vaudeville!


  1. With my memory, it has been difficult to transition to Vesta, but I am happy—excited in fact—to accommodate.

    Please just be patient (I know you will be) while I get it aligned properly in my head.

    I'm planning to do the same thing soon (though just with my last name) for my project, so I'm imagining how awkward it can be to tell people to switch after knowing you for years.

    I'm actually thinking of having my last name legally changed. That would eliminate the confusion of being "outed" by giving someone your ID. Have you considered this?

  2. PS:

    I like that you new name is an alliteration, just like your old name was...

    Very comic book of you...

  3. I think it's fairly obvious that Vesta isn't your birth name, and in our community anyone who is introduced to you as Vesta, and then hears someone else calling you Sara is just going to have them go "ooh that's her real name, but she introduced herself as Vesta so that must be what she prefers."

    I think this transition period happens to everyone who changes their name, and as such has been experienced by a great deal of people, so you shouldn't worry about confusing new acquaintances, they'll figure it out just fine.

  4. I still need to give you opinions and ideas about identity and names. and I don't think it's "obvious". I've known plenty of people with dramatic names their crazy parents gave them :D

  5. "Further evidence of the reign of V's: Vicious Victorian Vampire Villain Vaudeville!"

    "Vi veri veniversum vivus vici"

    "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe"

    -V (because Alan Moore knows the score)