Since the beginning of my undergrad career, I’d been fascinated with identity development and how a person’s identity can change and evolve over time. With my identities in mind, I think about what identities were discovered, which ones evolved and which identities I crafted for myself. Being a person who is named after someone else, it has become extremely important to craft my own identity and create the person I want to be.
In looking at how my identity as a person has changed over time, let’s look at the names and nicknames I took. Some were given and others I decided for myself.
From a very young age, I was called “June.” It made perfect sense: I was born at the end of June and I was named after my dad. June was the baby of the family, carefree, super-smart, and imaginative. He loved toys and cartoons, spending time with friends and playing pretend. He was an avid reader, reading everything from the Scooby-Doo books to Bunnicula to Harry Potter. June was so sure that he was going to be a Power Ranger when he grew up. He is very much your average kid who wanted to be just that a kid.
During middle school, I was referred to by my last name “Benion.” It was embroidered on my backpack because I attended a school that held grades 7-12. There were bound to be more Ronalds than just me. Honestly, middle school was the worst two years of my life. I was bullied consistently. There was never a day in which I actually wanted to go to school. I hated it. I couldn’t understand what I did to make everyone else be so cruel. I didn’t have a single “real” friend. I was alone. This time period also brought upon the biggest change in my life aka Hurricane Katrina. While I hated living the city that was my home, part of me was so happy that I could finally start over and be done with the bullying. Unfortunately, it continued when I got to Texas. I was so happy that I was in middle school only for a year because I knew high school would be different.
When I started high school, I took up the name “Ron.” Ron was a person who was discovering a lot about himself like rapid fire. He took aspects of “June” but matured a bit. Ron was goofy, smart, creative, and a music lover. However, Ron was also depressed, lost and felt like he was absolutely alone. Simply put, Ron knew how to wear a mask for the world to cover up what was really going on with him. Ron discovered he was gay his freshman year of high school. The coming out process for him was horrible. Yeah, it could have been worse, but he felt like his world was coming to an end. Actually he wanted it to end. So he drowned himself in his music. He joined choir and finally let himself be heard, musically.
College is where “Ronnie” came to life. Ronnie was everything June and Ron was. Ronnie worked, studied, joined Greek life, hung out with friends, held leadership positions in several organizations, and even performed around Austin. Ronnie was the man. Ronnie knew exactly who he was. Despite all of his accomplishments, Ronnie still suffered from the underlying issues Ron faced. He was still not in a very good place emotionally. It was this identity that Ronnie finally opened up and let people in to see what he held deep inside all of that time. He let himself be vulnerable. With the help of mentors and “real” friends, Ronnie found happiness. It was after he found his vulnerability that Ronnie discovered his identity as an introvert. He doesn’t let everyone in, but he lets those he knows he can trust see him for the person he really is.
Ronald is the name I was given at birth. However, I have never identified with that name. In fact, there was a point to which I hated it because it reminded me of my dad. My relationship with my dad is a work in progress. Ronald was the name I associated with the person I never wanted to be. Being named after someone to whom you have a complicated relationship with makes you want to create some distance from it. I created variations of the name to create who I wanted to be. Ronald isn’t who I am. It’s the identity I chose for myself and at this point in my life, I don’t think it ever will be.
I am me. I love the person I am and who I decided I want to become. The name I go by is Ronnie because that is the identity in which I began to love myself and all that I am. No one will ever be able to take that love from me. I’m not changing for anyone else but me. For those who’ve known me by an identity of the past, get to know me as the person I am today. An introvert who prefers a quiet night in to a crazy night on the town. An avid reader who love young adult literature. A classic cartoon fanatic (90’s cartoons were the best). A music lover who loves discovering new artists and singing. A social justice enthusiast who can’t wait for the day when all people are accepted and treated in equity no matter what their identities are. A future student affairs professional who wants to help students learn, discover and inspire. A man who may not fit traditional gender roles, but loves the person he is and his maleness.
Now that you know a bit about my identities, think about yours and how you’ve grown and developed over the years.