A rose by any other name
It was a common for women in the 1970s and 1980s to change their names according to who they wanted to be, and to reject the names that had been conferred on them by a patriarchal system. On the whole it worked well. They were often romantic or aspirational names. But Sarah wondered whether their bearers would tire of the hopefulness which their new names suggested, and would, later on, have preferred instead to be known as Choler, Bile or Disappointment.
All names trailed a history in their wake. Cordelia, now: goodness, fortitude, death. Or Clarissa: chastity, determination, death. Or Mary: virginity, blue dress, Pieta. Sarah decided that there were a number of alternative naming strategies. The Dutch (for complex historical reasons) had names which described their appearance: she might try Sarah Largebreasts, for example, or Sarah Coppernob. Or she could try the names of women she admired: Frida, Boudica, Emily. The problem with those was that one’s life changed with lightening speed. Sarah felt as though she could be Emily one week (strong, imaginative, devious) and Boudica the next (vengeful, fixing knives to her own chariot wheels). But her very malleability would cause problems. People would not know who she was.
In the end, she decided on Redcoat. It suited for a number of reasons. Redcoats were soldiers: doughty and bellicose. To be sure, they were hired killers: but killers out of need rather than conviction. Redcoats could also be bringers of jollity - at Butlin’s, for example, where they were hyperactive and carnivalesque. They could turn their hand to anything celebratory. And lastly the red coat could signify blood - the blood of pain or birth or menstruation. The red streak down the back of the coat could bring embarrassment and signal the wearer’s fertility. And it could signify red wine, which could confer wobbliness or a majestic poise.
The change via Deed Poll was surprisingly easy. For this period of her life, Redcoat would do. Perhaps at a later date she would need another name: Stillness, Rage, Shroud. But for the moment, people would know who she was, and they could see her: a red splash on the landscape, a stain, a smudge, a dot. A red dot.