Labels, Identity, and Use-Names

Labels, names, and identify have power. More power than we often give them credit. In Joy Kim’s post, this subject is tackled and spoken about in a way that I truly identified with. I strongly agree with many points that are made within the post. Even within the world of the Stillness, where some parts of the world seem to be much more accepting, such as Tonkee’s identity or Alabaster sexuality, labels still exist. Even within the homogenized Sanzed people, Essun points out individual traits each has, trying to determine what their ancestry is, “He’s probably lighter skinned… from somewhere near the Antarctic’s, or the western continental coast,” (The Fifth Season, 106).

I had similar experiences within my own life to those presented in Joy’s post. I am also a first generation child, my father was born and raised in Asia before moving to the United States. He was very culturally and ethnically different and still speaks with an accent. However, my mother is a white American. I was raised in a predominantly white community. What resonated with me most of all about Joy’s post was when she wrote about the want to “belong”. I have felt this to a great extent as well. Being Asian American means that you are not “fully Asian”, and not “fully American”.

I was always being labeled “Asian” growing up. It was almost never done in a mean-spirited way, but it was a label nonetheless. From a racial standpoint, I was always something other than the norm. In some ways, this made things difficult. When I finally did travel to my father’s country to meet my own family later in life, I was to find that I was not the norm there either. Where I finally hoped to find other “Asians”, I was “White”. This was a long time ago, but I still remember when I was first called that. I remember when I realized even over in the place I had been pointing out on a map for years people saw me differently. For the longest time, this troubled me. I suppose it still does to an extent, even in my last post I made a special mention to classify myself as “culturally American” when speaking about my heritage. 

It is completely human to attempt to classify things. Much of it is in our nature, to see what is similar and what we recognize. People like to categorize things, and labels can help with this. It can be entirely utilitarian, even members of comms utilize use-names to signify their purpose to society, “a stoneknapper of the Resistant use-caste” (The Fifth Season, 15). As stated in her post where she classifies and labels races by their approximate real-world variant, Jemisin even designates the Midlatters to be seen as multiracial.

Labels make sense. In Anthropology, I recently learned of human variation. Ancestral and ethnic backgrounds can be important, ethnic variation can account for medical purposes such as disease resistance and dietary requirements. Without labels, this information would be lost. They are important, not just culturally, but biologically.

Beyond this, labels can help unify. They can help form identities, create belonging. I cheer for the Buffalo Bills because I am from Buffalo. I am extremely proud to be American. These identities come from these labels, from being from the American city of Buffalo. Comms are important, Castrima is not just a city, it is a group of people who are Castrima, “Castrima was-is-an experiment. Not the geode, the people,” (The Stone Sky, 54). It’s the label they apply to themselves, for their own benefit. And that benefit can carry much more than just belonging, its an identity.

Yet, labels are dangerous. I spent too much time worrying about my own, how to “belong” to a label. Labels are everywhere, from fantasy novels to college applications. And they matter, they aren’t just a fun fact, or for the sake of innocent classification. Whether it’s where your parents were born, or what sports team you support, it affects how you are perceived. Essun ran from her label for this reason.

I don’t know how to feel about them. Others take pride in them, making their labels their own. People are proud  Latino Americans, African Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, and I can understand why. In ways, the negatives can be turned positive. “‘Ykka Rogga Castrima’… You blurt: ‘Rogga?’”(The Fifth Season, 267-268). Every person likes to feel that they belong, whether it’s to an ethnic group, political party, football fanbase, or city. They are part of our society and linked to the way we live our lives.

But why is ”Castrima” different from “Orogene” or “rogga”? This very thing is what I’ve thought even as I write out this post. I think it’s for what you choose to belong to, rather than what you are given. The difference is in our own agency, in our ability to choose our labels and identity. I’m happy to be a Geneseo student, I chose this school. I didn’t choose to be American, I have chosen to stay here, to make it a part of my identity. I am happy with these labels.

Labels are part of our identity, how others perceive us and to an extent how we perceive ourselves. They are the cause for so much strife within The Broken Earth series and in the real world. Yet, they are an essential part of both Jemisin’s world and our own.  


I apologize for some of the ramblings within this post, this subject is one that I do share an amount of passion for. The concept of labels and names was one that was on my mind through my read of The Broken Earth, although only recently after reading the original post was I able to formulate some of my thoughts. Once again, I am curious to see if any others have thoughts on this subject. Specifically, if anyone has any interesting views of labels and names within society.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.