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What's in a Name?

On labels and diversity in the Arts.

I changed my surname when I was 18. The Turkish surname I was born with is Kahraman. So underneath Arden, I am Ilayda Kahraman. I was not alone in making this change; my whole family did it - the story is quite sad & hilarious in equal measure, but for another time.

I could change my name back now if I wanted to, but for a multitude of (mostly practical) reasons, I haven't. I met someone on last weekend who upon finding this out mused aloud about whether I had internalised shame about my Turkishness. They then, (accidentally, I'm sure) insinuated that in deciding to keep my current surname, I might be letting down the next generation of cross cultural artists by not 'owning' my Turkishness, and making it more visible for all to see and recognise.

I listened politely to the well-meaning advocate for diversity in the arts & vaguely registered that they were probably a 'native' Brit. I wondered if they had ever dealt with a crisis in identity, in home, in belonging as acutely as most children of First Generation migrants have.

I wondered if they'd ever grasp the pains, joys & endless nuances of being the kid of non western First Gen migrants. I wondered if they'd ever comprehend the complexity that outstrips well intentioned but often reductive terms like 'visibility', ‘BAME’ or even 'working class artist'.

I nodded along then asked if THEY ever felt burdened by the pressure of needing to set an example for the next generation of white British artists. I asked them if it would have been so important for me to display my Turkish name if I perhaps, looked more stereotypically Turkish to them; more Other. They registered my polite challenge & faltered.

I smiled at their hesitation, said I was very proud of my Turkishness, but that they were lucky it was Ilayda Arden and not Ilayda Kahraman they were chatting to; most Turks are significantly less diplomatic than Brits in their disagreements.


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