Cosplay Identities – What’s in a name?

Cosplay Identities – What’s in a name?
Originally posted: http://geekxgirls.com/article.php?ID=905

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called

(Romeo And Juliet Act 2 Scene 2 43-5)

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A quotation most of us are all too familiar with the tragic love story crammed down our throats in high school… but unfortunately in today’s day and age that doesn’t seem to be how it works. We live in an age of technology where everything is not only fast but it is in print. In today’s day leaving your facebook or twitter feed open amongst your friends can often lead to amusing and sometimes horrifying prank status updates and print stays with us. More often than not people remember the text they see a couple times a day than a name they heard once in a crowded room. To be completely honest if it were not for facebook I would not know the last names of a lot of people that I’ve met, and for that matter sometimes even their first names. It is the name that we have in text for the world, the name they can google that people remember.

Learning names in the cosplay world is particularly difficult. So many of the friends I make are generally in costumes sometimes with extensive make up, masks and wigs that drastically alter their appearance and so often knowing their true identity as it were does not always happen. Furthermore some cosplayers can meet hundreds of people at a convention and while the majority of people are grand every now and again there is a crazy person we have to be wary of. Furthermore some people are just introverted, while cosplay is a great way to express themselves they don’t necessarily want it to bleed in with their every day life. To that end and I believe for these reasons amongst others many cosplayers have come up with cosplay identities; code names or pseudonyms by which they are known in the convention world and various other geek scenes. You may know some these cosplayers with identities such as BelleChere, Roxy Darknight, or Roxy Lee GG. Now granted this is not to say all cosplayers choose a different identity some are comfortable using their names for example Nicole Marie Jean or Jessica LG and some people use a combination of their first or family names, initials, etc. While some people have no qualms using their legal names, others do and like actors’ stage names or authors pen names why shouldn’t those people be allowed to have a different identity?

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If you are not comfortable using your given name as a cosplay identity then one of the most important things you can do is name yourself. Now to some people it is a no brainer, they pick a child hood nick name or gamer tag, and they are confident in what they want the community to call them. Others, well, sometimes we aren’t so sure. A lot of times I find this can come from confusion and not being very familiar with the community. Trying to get our feet wet we look for a way in, sometimes this ‘way’ can be a name be it a reference to a comic, game, show or even city. Choosing a name can be intimidating because unlike a ‘given’ name that generally you owe to your parents and have no control over, people can judge you based on your choice of name. These judgments could be as small as ‘oh cool Ms.LitaJuipter Cosplay she must be really into Sailor Moon’ or as big as ‘oh Ms.SexyJupiter’ what she thinks shes all that?’ Some people have thick enough skin they can pick a name, stick it to the wind and not care less, however some us are more hesitant and nervous about the image that our names might put forward.

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When I first started entering the convention and online community I saw numerous city based heroes from Chicago Bane to Moncton Spidey, but a prevalent number within Toronto, a place which I had called home since leaving high school. To me choosing the name ‘Toronto Rogue” as an identity seemed like a no brainer there is Rogue, the mutant, that ran away and found home in the X-Men and Rogue, the human, that ran away and found home in Toronto. I also thought it would be a funny parallel as Rogue is one of my favourite characters but also my middle name. Unfortunately with most, the joke did not land. People would often ask why I was “Toronto Rogue” if I was dressed up as anime character or something different. I must admit there was also a part of me that chose the title assuming that with all these ‘city-wide heroes’ that it would help me belong to the ‘group’. What I failed to realize is that there really isn’t a ‘group’ so much as individual artists and everyone has a different path – and my path… well it’s about more than where I live. At this point my only outlet for sharing my art was my facebook page, but once you hit 200 ‘likes’ your page name cannot be changed and it was post 200 likes that I began to feel like the “Toronto Rogue” identity was a big mistake.

What I failed to realize in my naivety when first entering the community is that same silly mistake we can make as children or in high school – trying to fit in. I chose a name to try and belong to a group instead of choosing a name that helped identify myself. All these city wide heroes they all have different things to offer, Toronto Batman is character in youtube series, Toronto Iron Man is an incredible metal smith – generally dressed as Iron Man or Tony Stark – every person has a reason to choose their identity but with the ‘Rogue’ joke lost on people suddenly ‘Toronto Rogue” started to feel two sizes too small as I frequently dress as other characters.

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It was not only judgements that came my way that caused me to question the whole “cosplay identity” but other pages as well. A rather well known page Sexy Cosplay Girls mentioned wanting to change their name to ‘The SGC” as some people are taken aback by the ‘sexy’ and assume that it means graphic t and a – which part of me understood, but then part of me was really sad cause there it is again… judgment. Then there is also the part of me that questions age and timing, a 30 year old cosplayer in the business has his/her identity nailed, but a young 16 year old…. Well think back to YOUR 16 year old e-mail? It was probably pretty ridiculous and these identities could be very much the same thing. I know several cosplayers who basically abandoned facebook pages in favour of Deviant Art or other websites where their handle/identity is completely different and some people have multiple cosplay pages on Facebook. Everyone is different and has different reasons, for me, I wanted to find a clear and concise name by which to identify myself and my work.

It was in a frequent sign off on facebook that the identity ‘Northern Belle’ came to me. A play on words due to the fact that Rogue is one of Marvel’s southern belles, and being from the Great White North it seemed like a cute spin. As soon as I entertained the notion, other reasons to justify the name switch arose. One of which is that while my name is Rogue the character of Belle from Beauty and the Beast was always my absolute favourite growing up. I dreamed of playing her on ice, on Broadway, of even wearing that yellow dress to my wedding! Plus ‘Northern Belle’ is the name of a ship and it spoke to the sailor in me. A multi-purpose name like this felt much more like me than and what I try to bring into my cosplays – not just my ‘Rogue’ obsession and where I live, but my theatre background, my costume making, my crew and teamwork mentality because it is all a part of me and my work. It took weeks if not months of harassing the facebook help center to allow me to change the page name as I did not want to lose the following I had cultivated but also the log and progress of all my work. Fortunately Facebook heard my pleas. They allowed me to change the name and I’ve been Northern Belle ever since. If I could give one piece of advice for ‘new’ cosplayers it would be to choose an identity that resonates within yourself. Choose something that holds meaning to you and to that end remember that at the end of the day YOU are the one that has to see your name in print every day when you log into FB/Twitter/Tumblr/Whatever. YOU are the one that has to turn around when people call out to you on a convention floor, and ultimately it is YOUR identity.

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“That sounds like so much hassle why wouldn’t you just go by your real name?” Well you see I tried that with Rogue, but the amount of times I had to clarify that yes it is in fact my real name, or then when people expect me to “prove” my name it just gets irritating. It is funny how far in fact people will go to NOT use my real name. For example I have a fake middle and last name on facebook and all too frequently people will address me by those names assuming that ‘Rogue’ couldn’t possibly be the right one. Did you know there are weirder names than Rogue out there? Trust me, I promise you there are tons, take a look through a celebrity baby list one day. Maybe Shakespeare was wrong and Ursula K. Le Guin was right, maybe power lies within names. I think people having the freedom to name themselves or give themselves an identity is very empowering and who are we to take that opportunity from another or judge them based on what name they pick?