Learn the name of rumpelstiltskin and youre freed

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Names have power in fables. Learn the name of Rumpelstiltskin and you’re freed from a lifetime of turning straw into gold; name a pain and it doesn’t disappear, but it becomes manageable. “I hurt.” “Where?” Name a thing (land, patents, trademarks) and it’s yours. Names define, they decree — think lineages, Jr., Sr., I, II, III. Names denote and demarcate; a name separates an individual from the masses; makes one a person rather than a statistic. A name is specific, sacred, even — perhaps especially — to the irreligious. I have two names, one which I use and one which I don’t. (This is a simplification, names are multitudinous.) The full version on my birth certificate reads: Larissa Ngan Trang Nguyen Pham. I write under the first and last of these names; hold the others close to my chest. These names of mine are too many characters for a state ID; too long for most web fields, and hard to pronounce beside. Most people don’t know these names exist at all. * * * Larissa Pham is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn. She co-edits the blog at Full Stop, where she writes a monthly column about the emotional landscape of technology and the Internet. When I was young, I was fascinated by names and their purpose. My parents, for some unfathomable reason, kept the paperback book of baby names my mother, I imagine, flipped through through her two pregnancies, lying on our saffron-colored floral couch with her feet up. The book was terribly banal and full of good American names of the ’90s I’m sure. Still, I was intrigued by how each name had a meaning like a word but better because you wore it all the time. Part of me suspects I was practicing creating characters, prior to the time when I would eventually write fiction; but the better answer might be that I was intrigued by the idea of a defined identity, a thing that described you before you could describe yourself. Briefly, a list of laments: the immigrant kids who alter their names to make them more palatable to American tongues, picking monikers like Tiffany or Grace. The kids who get teased for names like Phuc or Dung or Hung. The kids who squirm under the gaze of the teacher who mispronounces their names during roll call. Names express. Names are the first glimpse, they shine a light on the rest of an identity — however complicated. I’ve never truly felt comfortable with my given name, which among other things marks me as a fairly recent hybrid, an Asian-American child of the diaspora. “Larissa” is mellifluous; ethnically ambiguous the three other Larissa’s I’ve met are black, Latina, and white, respectively. On me, it’s a Greek name with a Russian spelling rolling off an American tongue, worn by an Asian girl who was born and raised in the States. It’s a name that says, “I was born here, but I was the first.” And yet I’ve never felt it suited me, the hard R and double S, preferring to crouch under the auspices of shorter, androgynous nicknames like “Lars.” But it is my name. A surname, too, carries its own weight. “Pham” is the thing that tells you where I’m from, as legible as any other aspect of race. It’s the thing that

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