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  • Writer's picture烏べん

What's in a name?

When I finally got around to being an artist I found someone had stolen my name.

Even my middle initial, and superficially much of my CV.

He’s a nice guy though, we’re friends now.

So it was necessary to take another.

But not my mother’s, that would have too much baggage. Just a nom de plume.

My very first thought was my Japanese mother’s name (long story).


Not Spanish or Italian. Not the card game.

But 烏野.

Benjamin Uno.

Uno Benjamin.


My Japanese family and friends always called me Ben-ja-miin

because Ben is too short and sounds like a toilet.

Or the sound the shamisen makes when plucked.

No-one in Australia hears Uno as Japanese.

I suppose that means I can’t be accused of cosplaying my identity.

In the same way I have never worn Kendo gear to any fancy-dress parties.

It’s not play. It’s real life. Or at least playing at being real life.

Performative authenticity.

That’s as real as it gets.

Uno Benjamin.

It’s clunky. Needs constant explaining. ‘Why, though?’

Well, there was no other choice.

But the lure of having a surname in kanji – it’s a strong desire in many Nippon-o-philes.

For me too, to have pictures for a name.

A bird and a field.

A 烏 and a 野.


The many people who have done similar before me, choosing their own name.

Changing their name to suit their career. Changing who they are in the world.

Queer friends in the anti-nuclear movement of the 80s:

the lesbians earnestly creating new hybrid names,

the gay men creating personas with puns.

Real life and play. Same.

My Japanese mother and my Japanese sister themselves with their stage names.

Nakakura sensei marrying Ueshiba’s daughter and being adopted into the family. Then leaving them and re-taking his birth name.

Dharma names.

Changing your name when you live past the age you thought you would die,

or the age when you parents died.

The emperor taking the name of his Age.

The Australian artist What.

Most Japanese actors.

One day maybe, I will be just



That would be a good actor name.

Like air-con-di-tion-ing became air-con.

Smart phone became suma-ho.

Se-ku-shi-a-ru-ha-ra-su-men-to became se-ku-ha-ra.

Mother and daughter are not related to each other

(my Japanese mother has no children of her own, but she is ‘second mother’ to many).

Her daughter was first her deshi, in dance.


Actually an uchi-deshi: number one student, live-in maid, and personal assistant, all in one.

Then, after nearly four decades, the teacher formally adopted her student.

For decades they shared the same stage surname. Now they have the same family name.


Not one.

What’s in a name?

Is it me?

Is it patriarchy?

Is it place?

Is it karma or is it flesh-and-blood?

Is it a game or is it life-and-death?

And the self-chosen, is there really that much of a choice?

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