Sandy Runback

July 21, 2015

I’m not normally much of the sentimental type, but today I found something on this day on Facebook that needed some commentary. Seven years ago, I changed my name to Sandy Maguire. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done, and they’ve certainly been the best years of my life – though I’m not sure that last point is relevant.

Let’s recap quickly. I was born Alexander Maguire, and went by Alex for most of my life. I never really liked the name Alex – it was too common in my age group (the 28th most popular name when I was born, and steadily working its way towards the coveted #1 spot ever since), but perhaps more damningly, I never identified as an Alex. I’m not sure why. Unfortunately, as a child I lacked the agency to do anything about this. I spent 18 years feeling vaguely discontent about the whole state of affairs.

2008 came along. I graduated from high school. Most of my friends were leaving / had left already to go to university, but I had decided to take a year off and relax. Sadly, my records from back then are pretty sparse, but I’m relatively certain Facebook had just unrolled their “Change your Name” feature. I clicked on it, mostly as a joke, and typed in the first thing that came to mind.

“Sandy Maguire”

I liked the ring of it. But also I had just finished watching The OC, where the adopted father of the main character is this radical dude named Sandy Cohen who embodied all of the ideals I’ve ever admired. He’s loyal, kind-hearted, witty, and just a through-and-through good guy. He’s a champion of justice, protector of the weak, and is truly incorruptible. Also he has fantastic eyebrows.

“You chose to name yourself after me?”

It seemed like a fitting name. So I pressed Enter and made it official. I was now Sandy Maguire. That was the easy part.

Changing your identity is hard[citation needed], but I’m pretty sure it’s much harder to do it in a small town where you know or have heard an embarrassing story about literally everyone your age. I had changed my name on Facebook, but that day I learned that just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t make it true.

It was weird. Most people simply refused to call me Sandy. “It’s just a phase,” they’d say. “Fuck you,” I’d reply, but quietly. I couldn’t understand it; who are these people to say what I can and can’t be called? My name is what I choose it to be; you don’t get any say in the matter!

This line of reasoning didn’t fly, and so all of a sudden I found myself alienated from most of the people I knew. Instead of being sad about it and continuing to fight, I just found new people to be friends with and introduced myself as Sandy. Problem solved. Over a period of two weeks, I had almost churned my way through an entire social group.

Such an event was good for a few reasons: it served as a great filter for people who respected my wishes, and (because very few people made it past that) gave me a chance to reinvent my public persona. Lots of changes took place, but in retrospect, one of the most important was that I stopped being afraid to take chances to embarrass myself. Previously, I had kept many of my embarrassing moments to myself, wanted to sustain the idea that I was “cool”. I was afraid people would stop liking me otherwise.

As a matter of fact, some people did stop liking me, but now I knew how easy it was to replace people. I realized that if people didn’t like me, that was their problem, not mine. Confidence: it’s pretty good stuff. This might just be “growing up”, but the timing was rather impeccable.

Unfortunately, there are some people it’s harder to replace. My parents were pretty good about trying out my new name, but seven years later, there are still some extended family members who aren’t on-board. I’ve been putting up with it up until now because I don’t see them very often, but it seems fair to stop responding to Alex around them after seven years of deprecation time.

These days I go by lots of monikers: Sandy, Santino, tino, and any fun variants thereof. It’s easier to switch now; I’m not sure if this is because people are used to my name being fluid now, or if the changes just aren’t drastic. Or maybe people just become less-shitty as they age. Probably some combination of the three.

I don’t have any wise knowledge to impart on this topic, just wanted to share an experience that was formative and important to me. There are lots of parallels to draw here, but I’ll leave that for the philosophers.

Back to regularly-scheduled content soon.