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Name, Persona and Identity

Name, Persona and Identity

ayushi koul


Ayushi Koul


ayushi koulThe question of identity and its relationship with the individual’s life in society have pertinent implications. Identity formation is the result of historical implication, societal politics and the individual discursivities associated with the question of identity. This ‘identification’ strain is underlined at all times of the society’s existence. It betrays its influence at the micro level at the site of naming. Each individual is ‘named’ at birth. It follows a process that makes the phenomenon as natural, such that the question of ‘identity formation’ that is implicit in the process remains concealed.

However, there appear times in the life of the community when the question of the name and its role in identity formation comes alive. It becomes a political question that deems an answer which is political as well as of extreme importance to philosophy. These questions of ‘political philosophy’ are a reply to the problem of existence, to the problem of exploitation and emancipation.

My objective would be to trace the debates surrounding the question of the caste names, their role in identity formation, and relationship to the question of politics which is the site of emancipation.


Name is a notion to identify with self in the social construct. This could be better understood with help of Frank Hamilton Cushing’s work on the Pueblo Indians of Zuni where he draws attention to the limited numbers of forenames in each clan, the work or the role played by every clan is decided according to the ‘cast list’ based on the name of the clan. Also, every child is named chosen by the child’s divinistic and sociologic modes; these names or titles are called ‘verity names’. These verity names remain significant for every child in the clan; this is because each name is related to a totem, its condition, functions, part, attributes- mythical or real. The name given to people based on or relating to totems also identifies with the power or position they have in the clan. For example, a name based on the head of the totem will have the maximum power whereas the name that is identified with the tail will have the least. The position is thus claimed by the name in the kinship, where every member is supposed to address the other with the power relationship they share; here the power relationship between the two members becomes the name attached to them. Their status in clan and society is brought up in their daily relationships as well as utterances, with no role-based confusion. The role of each member is to act out the characteristics based on his name. It becomes more complex with people in the fraternity of the clan, as the name does not only correspond to the public and private life of the individual in a clan but also depends on the rank in the fraternity.

In the clan, the superimposed name is given not only on the basis of societal roles, properties of the totem but also as people tend to ‘sustain life of men’ both in present and after-life. The sole heirs (males) of the clan tend to inherit the forename and with it the persona of his father/forefathers. As Marcel Mauss puts it, “with the Pueblo we already seed a notion of the ‘person’ (personne) or individual, absorbed in his clan, but already detached from it in the ceremonial by the mask, his title, his rank, his role, his survival and his reappearance on earth in one of his descendants endowed with the same status, forenames, titles, rights and functions.” In the Zuni clan, every individual has two sets of proper names (verity name with forename), the first name is the commonly called name, whereas the other is the secret name. The forename of the person changes corresponding to his functions as well as the roles he fulfills towards society, this given name with his persona as well as the position is inherited by the eldest descendant. As the rightful successor of the name, he has a moral obligation to keep up with his reincarnated name, in which the spirit of his ancestors is preserved. His name becomes his personae.

The word personae dates back to the beginning of Latin civilization and is postulated as ‘Mask’. It is attributed with characteristics of simulacra, representation, role distinguished from the personal self yet established as nature of the individual. Therefore, the changing role or mask becomes dynamic regarding which Erving Goffman also extensively talks about in his work ‘representation of self in everyday life’.

As Philip De Lacy in his article mentions the four considerations by Cicero which he signifies as personae in De officiis, a stoic ethical doctrine. The first depends on our nature shared with other beings; second, individual nature of a being; third is the persona inculcated from circumstances with time, and fourth arises from the result of choices made from personal judgments. In De Lacy’s work, he brings forward the ways to identify with persona. When seen in an ethical context, persona tends to bring together individual differences with the suggestion of detachment, i.e. the actor playing a character remains distinct from it, the role is merely a mask worn by the actor while portraying the character and similar is the persona of the character. De Lacy explains persona as “an outward show as distinct from inner reality, or to a temporary or transitory course of action, something put on or put off, as distinct from a persistent identity”. The second way to identify with persona is to present the peculiar in individuals, an element or characteristic which distinguishes one being from another. The third method of identification is brought from the work of Ariston who compares a wise man with a good actor also giving crucial importance to circumstances. For him, the wise man can play any role appropriately even when he does not have circumstances under his control. As written in the stoic age, an Ideal age, where circumstances signify hardships created by Zeus, to testify and train powers of the subject or wise man.

The notion of the persona was enriched by the Stoic with their voluntary and personal ethics. The Greek word πρόσωπον, primarily understood as a mask, also suggests ‘personage’ which means that the person or the subject desires to be his true self, his character or his real face. The Greek moralists thus unfold the word as the true innermost self visible after tearing apart the outer masks. The word according to them also has a judicial meaning over moral. The free, autonomous, self-conscious being necessarily requires to function and be obligated to judicial law. De Lacy finds this as self-consciousness with psychological consciousness in the Stoic which was further translated in the Roman law as well.

Christians also created a metaphysical being of a moral persona after being enlightened by its religious power. Schlossman remained a prominent figure to work on this area and is also followed De Lacy. In the Roman era, the notion of persona already existed. It was applicable not merely to human beings but also to non-real entities like religious foundations, legal corporations etc. The laws, constitution everything was united as a single moral being which was Christ. According to Honorius, the material world was the master plan of God for human salvation. The notion of ‘one’ was created from the unity of three, Trinity and the two natures of Christ, which further translated into the notion of ‘person’/persona’.


When King Louis XIV, asserts “I am France”, he through his utterance becomes the symbolic representation of France. His body acknowledged by him as France becomes the ultimate power, creating and controlling systems. His symbolic name or his exaggeration of being France explains the legitimized power over the nation as well as citizens. He has transformed into a mimesis of France, a symbolic producer of his power. Though the power of the king depends upon the portraiture of being a king in which he tries to fit himself. The Persona of a King is constructed, it transforms into a product or a collection of symbols which then floats among masses. It is also propagated by historians, dramatists, writers etc by producing a mimesis of his constructed persona. They present the King and his deeds as reality in a narrative plot to the ideal readers. King Lois IV is liable to put himself in the persona of a king as “absolutist power is essentially representation and representation in the baroque period must be considered in relation to power”(Louis Marin, Portrait of the King). According to Marin, the ‘King is an ideal actor’, which signifies that the individual on the position of King can be considered as a person representing himself as King by wearing a mask/persona of King at a specific time period/represented time.

The actions produced by the actor thus become historical narratives, making readers as spectators of these narrative events. To create this persona, a division in labor is required by both the King as well as the narrator. An action is necessary through which political omnipotence is evident, accompanied by propagation of the actions by narration. Thus, the narrator does not only require a king for creating or writing history but for the king also, the narrator is a prerequisite for achieving a politically perfect persona. To attain this perfection, history writing is calculated in advance. The narrative must avoid all fictional qualities which could question or hinder the King’s constructed personae. Such manipulated image becomes subjected to absolute power as well as subordination from the readers. “Legibility creates visibility and the visible becomes legible; at the center of the theory of representation under French absolutism lies the transcendence of the duality between the visible and the legible”. (Marin, Portrait of the King)

In the above paragraph, we realized how persona is created and constructed by using text affecting the ideology of readers. This method of producing an ideology by invisible bodies with means of plotted narratives can be termed as Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). The ISA is different from the Repressive State Apparatus: the latter predominantly uses violence in the public domain, and comes from a sole apparatus that is the state. The ISA belongs to private bodies as well as such as corporate organizations, newspapers, schools, family etc. Whether coming from a private or a public body, it becomes essential to understand how the Ideological State Apparatus functions. It becomes necessary to know that the ISAs use both the method, that is ideology, as well as repression but concentrates primarily on ideology. According to Althusser “If the ISAs ‘function’ massively and predominantly by ideology, what unifies their diversity is precisely this functioning, in so far as the ideology by which they function is always in fact unified, despite its diversity and its contradictions, beneath the ruling ideology, which is the ideology of the ruling class”. The ruling class has the state’s power, therefore the ruling ideology will remain active as an ISA and without the hegemony created by ISA, the power exercised by state remains ineffective.

Althusser in his work presents two theses on the structure and function of ideology. First, Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. Under this, the author looks at an ideology as a world outlook that is imaginary and not corresponding to reality. Ideology is thus illusion and can be interpreted by understanding the world created behind the imaginary world. The condition in which men put themselves is not real but imaginary depending on an ideology. An excellent example is given by Althusser, on how priest and despots in the Church forged the belief of masses. By the created notion of obeying God, they enslaved masses with great exploitation through a falsified/imaginary representation. Second, Ideology has a material existence. Althusser says ideas which construct an ideology are not spiritual but material. There is always an existing ideology in an apparatus.

Moving towards how ideology works on the society or individual: an individual with an ideology sustains a belief or conceptual device which adjusts the viewpoint of the subject corresponding to the ideology. His activities, as well as attitude, will submit to that ideology be it political, religious or any other. It works in such a way that the body will assume that all his actions are part of his consciousness and reason of being autonomous (not in case of slaves, or subaltern in Hinduism, who consider it as their duty towards specific caste of community). Such a thought of being conscious and autonomous is endowed by the Ideological apparatus. Althusser, further describes this, by advancing an Marxist argument where he states, “where only a single subject is concerned, the existence of the ideas of his belief is material in that his ideas are his material actions inserted into material practices governed by material rituals which are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus from which derive the ideas of that subject.” He asserts quite rightly that all ideologies are constructed for their subject; the destination of an ideology is the subject. The ideologies exist only to function in the material form of existence.

Therefore as Althusser points out, it becomes vital to identify who is writing a text and who will be or is the reader of the text concerned. For example, people reading or watching a play regarding Louis XIV will become subjects of ISA, they will pursue the personae of the King as the state wants it to believe. The persona of the king thus transfers from text to his masses coming back to himself in the absolute state. The transfer of personae from text to masses using ISA can be seen as a mask/persona created by ideology, with this we can conclude that ideology creates a persona.

Brahminical ideology being inherited from thousands of years becomes a prominent reason for the prevailing caste system in Hindu society. Since ages, the notion of classification of castes based on hierarchy has been idealized in the Hindu religion. The work or role individuals perform in society also depends on the basis of their caste in the social hierarchy. On the basis of texts like Manusmriti, Brahmins rightfully claimed their greatness, portraying themselves as omnipresent; on the contrary, they presented the Shudras and Ati-Shudras as downtrodden, untouchable beings. They tended to signify themselves as Brahma, creator of the world. According to texts like Manusmriti written by Brahmins, Brahmins are born from the head of Brahma whereas Shudras from the feet. This becomes the sole reason why a person is classified as lower caste and is liable to a Brahmin in every sense. He needs to obey a Brahmin’s every command, a Brahmin can treat him in any way, can even kill the subaltern (as he is similar to God). On the contrary, it is a sin to even think ill about a Brahmin for a Shudra. The Brahmins could have been outnumbered by the Shudras but the deep penetrated ideological force did not let the Shudras to take steps against the discrimination faced in the past. The caste system propagated by ancient texts written as history by Brahmins became a powerful weapon for continuous discrimination towards the Shudras. As Althusser points out, it becomes essential to realize who has written the text. In this situation, the personae of varied castes is carried forward by the brahmincal ideology.

Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar tried to smash the ideological apparatus by propagating that the Shudras change their identity by conversion from Hinduism to other religions, for establishing a new persona, taking over of a new name, freeing them from ages of oppression. Ambedkar questions his opponents who objected to this on the basis of similar teaching and destination in all the religions. Many claimed that religion is spiritual, whereas conversion is purely based on political gain. To this Ambedkar responded with ‘what is considered as good’ in a religion differs from the other. One religion may consider equality among followers as good whereas the other might propagate caste based classifications. For countering the objection related to religion as spiritual, a matter between man and God, he asserts that “To understand the function and purposes of religion it is necessary to separate religion from theology. The primary things in religion are the usages, practices and observances, rites and rituals. Theology is secondary. Its object is merely to nationalize them”. According to him, religion is similar to language, without religion an individual will not be able to involve in society and social life. The social functions followed in the actions tend to work as social approval by society. Therefore it works as an agency for social control with its grip in the hands of social pundits, exercising laws based on personal preferences justifying their acts in the name of religion.

Untouchability has remained an inevitable component of Hinduism. A belief in the religion makes an individual obligated to its notions. A so-called upper caste may take this as pride but acceptance of such notions by subaltern would represent him as an individual considering himself as untouchable. Conversion may not bring economic growth to the Shudras, but they can imagine moving ahead which their caste in the social hierarchy of Hinduism will not allow them. They might not be able to attain rights given to the lower caste but can benefit from those given to other religions in the nation. But most prominently they can achieve a status of equality which the other religious community will present them with, bringing an end to the social isolation and alienation within the community.

To put an end to this isolation, the Shudras need to establish kinship relations within the other community. Kinship relations have great significance, Robertson Smith explains this as ” A kin was a group of persons whose lives were so bound up together, in what must be called a physical unity, that they could be treated as parts of one common life. The members of one kindred looked on themselves as one living whole, a single animated mass of blood, flesh, and bones, of which no member could be touched without all the members suffering”. In a kinship, a member of the community is primarily a part of the kinship and then an autonomous individual. In this form of community, each member is considered as a family member. Ambedkar sees this method as an insurance against the oppression and tyranny of Hindus. Incorporation within a new kinship will bring them the support of the kindred community. This will also work as an antithesis of isolation by becoming a new Kith and Kin.

To enter into a new kinship means taking the new name of the other community and rejecting the Hindu name as untouchable. Names are symbols; each name represents an association with ideas, notions as well as social economy. ‘Untouchable’, through its basic understanding, is repelling. It not only asserts the status given to an individual but also unfolds the exploitation and prejudice associated with the ‘name’. Even if the Shudras, tries to cover up the imposed identity by saturating their name within their religious framework it will not be ignored. For shattering the ideological social structures they require to get distant from the previously rooted kinship names and acquire names which allow them to establish a fresh identity. Their identity will be in their unsullied names.



Althusser Louis, Ideology And Ideological State Apparatus, Harvester Wheatsheaf, New York 1994.

Ambedkar B.R, Away From The Hindus, B.R Ambedkar: Writings And Speeches Volume-V, Dr Ambedkar Foundation, 1989.

De Lacy Philip H, The Four Stoic Personae, University of Pennsylvania.

Marin Louis, The Portrait Of The King, Mimesis, University Of California Press, California, 1995.

Mauss Marcel, A Category Of Human Mind: The Notion Of Person; The Notion Of Self, the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, New York, 1985.



Ayushi Koul is a postgraduate in arts and aesthetics from Jawaharlal Nehru University with an honors degree in Journalism. She is currently working as a freelance writer and is also associated with an online magazine, Jaggery as Art editor.