Who Are You?

Who are you? The simple answer is to respond with a name. Even that has complications – first name or last? Nickname? That name was probably given to you before you had any idea who you were, so how can it really represent your identity? Your name may have changed during your life. You may have adopted an alias or changed your name when you married or went through a personal transition.

My name has never changed. Named after my father John and grandfather Lou, I never had a middle name, which caused some consternation as I was growing up. But with a name like mine, there’s hardly a reason for a middle name.

People formed impressions of me based on my name, often erroneous impressions. One person told me, “I thought you’d be a tall black woman.” When my name came up repeatedly in a conversation many years ago that I wasn’t part of, someone interrupted and asked, “Who is this John Lu, this Chinese fellow, you keep mentioning?” Yet, I was not confused about my race, gender or height.

Our identities are a complex mix of facts, experiences, characteristics, hopes and dreams. Basic identifying information such as birthplace, family name, gender, gender identity, and race may carry richer meaning and implications than we imagine. Certainly, simply stating them doesn’t begin to disentangle what they mean.

Pieces of our identity may be in our awareness constantly, while we forget or reject other pieces entirely. Our identities may be fragmented or integrated, fully embraced or have pinches of discomfort. My name, for instance, I hated when I was growing up. I wished to be Susan or Jane or Michelle – something normal. But I grew into Jonalu, and let go of the discomfort of it. Though if waitstaff in a restaurant ask me name, I tell them “JJ” for simplicity.

Always, identity is in a context where others are reading who we are and forming their own opinions about who we are, which may or may not coincide with what we believe to be true about ourselves. Sometimes, those observations by others may change how we see our own identity. Sometimes, our identity evolves with our experiences.

Any way you look at it, “Who am I?” is one of the most basic questions we have to answer about ourselves. And the answer may never be complete.


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