Hello there 🙂
When I was younger I used to sniff my mother's jewelry box. It is a tradition in Pakistani culture to receive gold after marriage, and while most things were kept in a safe, they kept some at home that I often admired. One of them was a gold necklace with the name of her and my father's simple script. I remember when I was 11 years old at the time and asked my mom for a necklace with my name on and she must have kept one for me that was made after I was born.
Now I'm 22 and the necklace is still on my neck. I know it may seem frivolous to some, but wearing my name – one that I have often butchered on purpose so others can pronounce it more easily – gave me a firm grasp of it. It wasn't until I saw my four year old niece proudly say her name and tell me how annoyed it was when people pronounced it wrong, until I understood how much a person's name plays an important role in their identity, especially when their identity is often questioned or misunderstood in society.
Name tag jewelry is the personalized style known as a lovable gift that can be found on some of the most popular jewelry sites today. While the nameplate is important to my Pakistani heritage, it has a similar meaning to many other people of different backgrounds, from black to Latin American cultures. As I delved deeper into the style and its translation for people around the world, I found Documenting the Nameplate, a project and study by Marcel Rosa-Salas and Isabel Flower, in which they delve deeply into the meaning of nameplate culture and document stories of people and their connection to their jewelry.
Curious to see what they found in their research, I reached out to the duo to learn more about the place jewelry has on nameplate in today's culture. Read below to see what they had to say.
Be Art and Ph.D. Students, there are so many things that you can analyze. What brought you to this intersection of fashion and culture?
Marcel holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and Isabel has a BA in studio art and art history. This educational lens has definitely influenced the way we approach our work (both independently and together). However, what really made us disregard our shared love for nameplates at the beginning of our friendship was our curiosity about an everyday material culture, which is often overlooked in critical discourse and in science. Nameplates are a prime example of an extremely popular and global phenomenon that is dear to both of us and that (to our knowledge) has never been officially investigated, documented or described.
How do you think both the fashion industry and individuals can better appreciate the origins of trends during your studies?
The story is much more complicated than we think, given the linear and simplistic narratives we learn in school that involve a collective understanding of popular culture. In general, it is very difficult to determine a true origin or possession of cultural phenomena, and determining these types of "facts" is not an aim of this project.
One of the greatest discoveries of this project is that nameplates have multiple, overlapping origins and continue to have rich and pluralistic meanings within many cultural traditions. However, this does not contradict the need to be specific, to pay attention to the trajectories of material history and, if necessary, to provide credit, which also, very importantly, includes compensation for people. Actors in the fashion industry should spend more time researching, not necessarily to get to the bottom of the "origin" (which is often impossible anyway), but to give their work context and depth in order to honor everyone involved. Highlight undervalued narratives and populations and encourage knowledge sharing.
Would you agree that jewelry has always been political? It's associated with socio-economic standing, Eurocentric beauty standards, and ethnic background. How has your research proven or disproved this?
We believe that all clothing is political and contains codes related to constructed social conventions related to beauty, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race. This is not necessarily limited to jewelry. How we present ourselves contains a multitude of signals that influence how we move through the world. One of the motives for this project is to highlight self-styling as an understaffed anthropological tool to understand how people make sense of their identity and their lives.
What did your first piece of jewelry mean to you and how did it mean in your life back then?
Marcel: I grew up in Brooklyn, right across from a jewelry store owned by an Italian-American man named Casale. It didn't matter if I was on my way to school or the corner bodega, I always stopped to gaze at the rows of shimmering nameplate tags that were on display in the shop window. One of them in particular caught my eye: it was a double-plated necklace that spelled the name “Maria” in bubbly, diamond-studded script. I remember it was one of the first things I consciously remember that it was nice to watch. I am also a Gemini and have spent much of my life being referred to by the false name. So having a nameplate always had a dual function for me – both decadent and profoundly practical. I got my first nameplate at the age of 10 after convincing my mom I deserved one when I did well in tests all over town. It was a style that I also associated with growing up events, whether it's birthdays, communions, graduations or other achievements. Many of my colleagues from Puerto Rico, Black, Italy, and the Middle East also had one.
Isabel: Although my father received a nameplate baby bracelet at birth and I was aware of the nameplates all my life, my fascination with the style and the desire to own one is much more a product of the time and place where I was grew up. I grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the 1990s through the mid-2000s, a peak in nameplate popularity, partly due to hip hop's growing influence on the mainstream. Neither of my parents were from the east coast, and we often moved for work. Nameplates were one of the most enduring aesthetics among the places I lived and went to school, and they were also an accessory that transcended many other differences. When I dealt with my own identity building and my feeling of rootlessness, I thought it was great that nameplates contained a sense of community and a common visual language. The aisles of my local shopping malls were lined with kiosks where you could order a nameplate that you could pick up the same day. My first nameplate was made of base metal and in the summer my neck turned green.
Name jewelry can be seen in so many cultures around the world. What is specific in your research with name jewelry for so many groups of people, especially for people of color?
Nameplates have multiple, overlapping cultural histories around the world, and there are people from as many backgrounds as you can imagine adopting this style. We believe one reason nameplates resonate with so many people is because of the emphasis on the name itself. A person's name is the essence of their identity and can tell a story about their life and family history. Consumer culture scholars often talk about the role fashion plays in telling stories about their lives. In storytelling, we make sense and communicate with one another. Nameplates also tell stories. Many of the testimonials we received during our research provide examples of people receiving or buying nameplates to mark important moments in life so that they are spatially and temporally related to loved ones. As a style that is both adaptable and exemplary of a collective aesthetic, nameplates offer wearers the opportunity to assert individuality and community at the same time. However, we feel it is important to fight the temptation to offer a great narrative about the cultural significance of nameplates, since nameplates, like any phenomenon, don't mean just one thing – they mean many things, and those meanings are shaped by history and context . There is also something to be said about wanting to have one's name on for others to see and how this act can be a political expression of personality. Particularly for groups of people marginalized because of racial, ethnic, and class-based social hierarchies, nameplates may be objects that provide a sense of visibility in contexts where recognition has otherwise been denied or diminished.
I know you mention in your essay that seeing the chain as a cultural appropriation actually hurts the story, but what about the popularization of the nameplate as a trend that says fashion is whitewashed to go mainstream (i.e. the trend is named the "Carrie Necklace" after Carrie Bradshaw donned the necklace Sex and the City)?
Cultural appropriation is about who has the power to set the agenda for cultural phenomena and benefit from it. The problem isn't that Carrie had a nameplate; It is so that the cultural history of the nameplate has been mischaracterized in favor of a simplistic narrative that obscures the contributions that many different groups of people have made to the creation and popularization of nameplate jewelry. The routine extractive and ahistorical relationship of the media and other powerful institutions to cultural production lies at the heart of capitalism. It alienates people from a full understanding of how objects are made, while confirming the race, class, and gender power dynamics that benefit a small group of people. This is especially true in the US, where white audiences are the "mainstream" brands seek to target.
There is also a mistaken popular narrative that nameplates are re-emerging in recent times. While we believe that factors such as online trading and nostalgic fashion trends play a role in the popularity of nameplates today, we would also like to emphasize that nameplates have never gone out of style for many people and have been an integral part of fashion for decades are, if not centuries.
I know you started this project in 2015. How has it evolved since then and what similar themes did you come across while collecting stories and pictures from so many different people around the world surrounding the nameplate?
In our research, we came across a wider variety of stories and styles of nameplate jewelry than we could ever have imagined when we started this project with a podcast episode in 2015. For the past five years, we've collected stories and pictures through events in NYC, LA, and Houston, as well as online via email and through social media. We received submissions from all over the world. It was fascinating and inspiring to get to know the many lives of nameplates in time and space. Issues that have come to light include the presence of nameplates as items of growing up, as items that celebrate certain identities, and as items that connect people, whether through gift giving or by wearing someone else's name (this could be an heirloom , a token of remembrance). or a jewelry exchange with a romantic partner or friend, to name a few examples.)
One of our favorite manifestations of this idea is nameplates and tags that contain the names of several people, e.g. B. Parents and Children. In general, nameplates illustrate a vital link between the wearer's identity and the relationships they have with others in their immediate personal life and the wider community.