(afterbirth; self-portrait, April 2012)
In a world where language determines identity, the privilege of reinventing oneself through renaming one’s self is a rite of passage too few of us explore. One is born, christened with a name our parents/guardians/cultures choose on our behalf and we become that person. The institution of marriage allows some of us the choice to inhabit a new name, to change our surnames, choose to keep our maiden names, double-barrel our surnames or create completely new surnames. And along with that, the choice to inhabit a new identity. The unorthodox option of changing our names through no relation to the culturally acceptable institutions of marriage or religion is something that is seen to be exercised only by celebrities, making themselves more marketable, or by hippies, making themselves less marketable.
I have chosen to change my name. And not because I am taking the nuptial plunge, entering Showbiz, converting to Islam or choosing to live outside of the bounds of Capitalist society and live of love, peace, happiness and LSD. I am changing my name because I have outgrown it. I have outgrown the name and identity given to me by my parents and by my society.
I have never been comfortable with the surname ‘Moolman,’ and those that know me know how ill-suited that very Afrikaans/Dutch name is to who I am. I decided that once I started writing, I would find a pseudonym, a name that I could feel comfortable with staring back at me from the spines of the shelves of bookshops. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise that it was not just the name I was uncomfortable with. I was fundamentally uncomfortable with the very identity that had been clumsily cobbled together around that name from the bits and pieces of who I was groomed to be from the time I was given that name. For to name is to be responsible for, as Ms Le Guin and the little prince so beautifully put it. And by naming me, my parents were responsible for me, for moulding the person that I was, was in the process of becoming, the person I would become. (As if identity is something one searches for, as if it’s an external object that one seeks and then finds and then inhabits).
The reality of someone else being responsible for me, someone else having agency over me, someone else providing me with the limited vocabulary and set of props for who I could be and what I could do has been something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. It has been like a yoke around my neck that I’ve fought and battled to take off, only succeeding in strangling myself. For how can I be free of the self that I am in others’ eyes, the self I’ve been through the gaze of my past if I cannot be free of the letters of the alphabet that join the dots of who I am in a pattern that is completely constrictive and not of my own choosing?
This might sound melodramatic and trivial to some – the notion that a name becomes a prison from which one cannot escape. But as a writer, as a student of language, the philosophy of language, the power of words is something I know cannot be taken lightly.
And so, in my journey of becoming, I have shed many of the preconceived ideas held by others and myself of who Germaine is. I have broken free of many of the chains that determine who I am and who I can be. And I am at the place in that journey where I have needed to undergo the long-forgotten and disused rite of passage of renaming.
I cannot express how empowering it is to choose one’s own name. Rather than something that has become meaningless through its daily use, like ‘plate,’ ‘chair,’ ‘love,’ I have been able to choose a name that is laden with meaning, symbolism, potential, creativity and life. Just as I am.
And so, as with everything else, I’m making Easter my own, giving it my own meaning. For me, Easter will now mark the christening of myself by my self; the rebirth of my self into a self, a family, and a world of my own making, my own choosing, my own creating. Shedding the skin of my old self, I leave the identity and name of Germaine Moolman behind, and out of those ashes Germaine de Larch* arises. As Germaine Moolman dies, so Germaine de Larch is born. Join me in welcoming my new self and the adventures and explorations I go on as I continue to create me.
*De Larch: As someone completely in love with layers of meaning, symbolism and intertextuality, ‘De Larch’ is deliciously laden with these elements.
‘De Larch’ literally means ‘of the larch’, a ‘larch’ being a coniferous, deciduous tree. The tree bears beautiful green or purple cones that ripen into woody seeds. The cone was a symbol of life in Latin times, being both a seed and egg-shaped. The medicinal uses of the tree include purgation and the promotion of healing. The wood of the tree is impervious to decay and is used for boats and barges (exploration, discovery), as well as telephone poles and railway lines (communication). Mythologically, the tree has roots in Shamanism, being a tree that contains all the souls of the Shamans before they incarnate to Earth. It is linked toAxis Mundi, the World Tree/Tree of Life/Tree of Knowledge, a tree present in all cultures and spiritualities pre-dating Christianity, a tree I’ve been obsessed with for years.
‘De Larch’ also contains the play on words – another one of my loves – on ‘dark’, ‘arc’, ‘arch’ and ‘lark’, thereby containing within it allusions to darkness (the shadow self one must face to achieve individuation – Jung), growth (parabola), vision and the formidable feminine (Joan of Arc), strength and doorways (arch) and play (lark).
The Larch, a prose poem by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
What an extraordinary tree this is!
All we see when we look at her are needles and more needles. Obviously another conifer then? But not so fast! As autumn sets in, the deciduous trees around her start to shed their leaves, almost as if death were upon them.And then – is she comiserating? I won’t desert you! the rest of my kind can winter safely here without me – she too begins to shed. And how suddenly her needles shower down – in festive, glinting sparks of sunlight.
Do we conclude that there is a softness at her very heart? Wrong again! The texture of her wood is among the toughest in the world – not every axe can get the better of it, it is too dense to drag and float downstream, and, far from rotting when abandoned in the water, it draws ever closer to the eternal strength of stone.
But when the gentle warmth of spring creeps back, a gift that each year takes us by surprise … it seems another year of life has been bestowed upon us, then why not spread our foliage anew, why not rejoin our kin, arrayed in needles as soft as silk?
One could point to people who share those same qualities.