Posted by: JennyRain | June 21, 2007

What’s in a Name? Identity & the Iwo Jima

AP Wire: July 20, 2007 TOKYO: Japan has returned to using the prewar name for the island of Iwo Jima — site of one of World War II’s most horrific battles — at the urging of its original inhabitants, who want to reclaim an identity they say has been hijacked. The new name, Iwo To, was adopted Monday by the Japanese Geographical Survey Institute in consultation with Japan’s coast guard.
Iwo Jima is undoubtedly my favorite monument in Washington D.C. because to America it signifies strength under pressure and resilience in the face of insurmountable obstacles. In this battle, the winning side took more casualties than the losing side, but reigned victorious in the end. Perching atop one of the higher hills in Washington, the Iwo Jima looks over the surrounding landscape of the city and heralds an identity that has been unwavering and a solemnity of presence that has been consistent.

On Monday, Japan changed the name of the island of Iwo Jima back to the pre-war name of Iwo To. Perhaps they had felt enough of the legacy of oppression that the name Iwo Jima represented. Perhaps they wanted to reclaim the identity of the island back to their home-land inhabitants. They were the losers in this battle, they suffered then and have had to continue to endure the loss of face experienced each time “Iwo Jima” is pronounced in their presence.

To the Japanese, perhaps, Iwo Jima meant loss, death, and a conferred identity rather than a self-discovered one. Perhaps it meant that another nation continued to pull the reigns on who defined Japan’s identity. Perhaps each time a Japanese individual saw Iwo Jima, it reminded them of a past they wanted to leave behind.

Undoubtedly America and our distinguished soldiers are discouraged and disappointed at this name change because to them Iwo Jima represents courage under fire, fallen comrades that they do not want to forget, and a change in direction for America during WWII. It represents freedom, democracy, and American victory and these are things that create great pride and patriotism for our nation. But can we truly embrace a name so associated with oppression and destitution for other humans? Could we not celebrate Japan’s liberation through re-naming, link hands with them, and we ourselves move on from this war-filled past?

Names are powerful identity descriptors for us all.

Can a person embrace their conferred identity and respect the generational legacy of their past, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY engaging in a self-identification process that breaks the chains of past conflict? If one’s given name is associated with pain and oppression, do they not have the right to establish a new identity, a new name, a new beginning?

We can never erase the past, but we can cease to allow it to define our identity into the future.

Japan has realized that names are a powerful part of who they have been, and who they are becoming. The timing of this is surreal as I have been in the process of exploring a legal name change to more aptly represent who I am personally becoming. I am wrestling with discovering a manner in which I respect the generational legacy of my family identity while providing myself the space to create my own identity boundaries.

Some of the name that I hold needs to be discarded because it is time to let go. Scott has been my divorced name far longer than it was my married name. “Please change your last name from Scott,” was the only request given to me by my former husband. Perhaps I have been holding onto it for spiteful reasons more than any desire to allow it to define my identity. Scott has done its job… now it is time to let it go.

Unlike the Japanese decision to return to their pre-war identity, I am no longer the young woman I was before my marriage, so my maiden name is not appropriate to return to. I have become, and am becoming each day, more defined by the relationship I have with God. Where He has brought me from, and where He is taking me to. The stories in His word that have ministered and matured me and the legacy that I wish to leave in the lives of people I touch every day have come more from this relationship than from my past. It is my desire to honor that new legacy in my life that I begin the process of seeking a name change.


all writing copyrighted by author (c) 6.21.2007.



  1. Hi my friend,
    When I was a boy, we often repeated that children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” It was a small defense in the onslaught of cruel taunts from playmates.

    I’m sure that you remember those words from your childhood also. One lesson that I’ve learned is that names can hurt. Names can scar hearts and leave scratches embedded deeply in a person’s psyche.

    Apparently, in their oriental wisdom, the Japanese have also learned this truth. I applaud their move to separate from a name that brings national pride to the victors of a bloody war. It is doubtful that the victors will embrace the change. The bullies on the playground know the truth about names too.

    Choose carefully Jenny, but remember this. It is through the events of your life that your name gains identity. Just as was the case with Iwo Jima, events gave the name identity. As you live your life each day devoted to sharing the love of God with a lost and dying world, a world full of names that hurt, wound, bruise, and injure, you are molding and shaping a name for yourself – no matter what it sounds like.

    Keith Vaughn

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