Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's In A (Nick)Name, Fort Mac?

Blog post ideas can occur to me in strange ways - sometimes it's an issue I'm burning to write about, and sometimes it's something someone has said. Sometimes it's a statement that may on the surface seem to mean little but that stops me in my tracks and makes me think. Recently I had this happen when I read a comment someone had made about my blog, and it truly got me thinking.

The comment was made when a friend re-posted one of my blog posts on their blog (with my permission, of course). Someone who read the blog post responded with a comment that simply made the point that people "from" Fort McMurray find the nickname "Fort Mac" disrespectful. There were two things I found interesting about this, people. The first was what exactly being "from" Fort McMurray means, and the second was about nicknames in general.

How do we determine if someone is "from" a place? What makes that distinction? As I have written before I have been here in the city for almost a decade. This is, quite frankly, the longest consecutive period of time I have lived anywhere as an adult. It's also approaching the longest period of time I have lived anywhere in my entire life, including as a child/young adult. So, by virtue of length of residence alone I consider myself to be "from" Fort McMurray.

Do we say someone is "from" a place if they own property there? Based on this criteria I again qualify to be "from" Fort Mac as I have owned property here virtually since my arrival a decade ago. This criteria would exclude long-term renters, though, and that doesn't seem right since I never owned property when I lived in Toronto and yet when I lived there I considered myself "from" Toronto, too.

Now, if the only way to be "from" a place is to be born there then I think we have a problem in Fort Mac. This would eliminate about 95% of the adult population as many Fort Mac residents were born elsewhere but call the city home. This surely can't be the only way to be "from" a place, can it? If so it certainly changes the dynamics as people around the world aren't really "from" the places they may end up (even if they end up being there for decades).

Perhaps being "from" a place is about choosing to be. If I am asked where I am from I don't say the prairie city where I grew up, or from the city in which I spent a good part of my adult life and which had a huge impact on who I am today. I say I am "from" Fort McMurray. Shouldn't someone be considered to be "from" a place when that is how they self-identify? Then all the other criteria fall away, and you have people who have chosen to be "from" a place as opposed to having to meet some artificial criteria. I think I'd prefer to be counted with people who have chosen to be "from" a place as opposed to simply having been born there and thus having had no choice in the designation. Now, you can also be born somewhere and choose to be from there, so it covers that aspect beautifully too. Suddenly we have a place where the people in the community have chosen to be"from" it and I think that's an incredibly empowering thing.

Now, the second part is about the nickname. Clearly I know that McMurray is not spelled "MacMurray", and thus the nickname "Fort Mac" is inaccurate - but since when are nicknames supposed to be accurate? I don't know about anybody else but if you're aiming for complete accuracy with a nickname then I think you've rather missed the point. I could call it "Fort McMurray" every time I need to refer to the city but I think that's a bit stiff and stodgy (two things I, most assuredly, am not). I am also known for dispensing and/or utilizing nicknames, and considering my dog's nicknames include "fuzzybottom" or "fluffybutt" I could do far worse than "Fort Mac". I think the city has gathered much more offensive nicknames that I would never use (Fort McCrack, anyone?). So, I'm not sure why "Fort Mac" would be considered disrespectful when to me it is a playful name infused with genuine affection. If I didn't like the city I wouldn't even bother with a nickname and would instead call it far darker things (like the person who found my blog recently by googling "Fort McMurray hell on earth", which is puzzling since I've certainly never referred to it that way on this blog or anywhere else).

Look, people, there is a chance I've overthought this all, and I admit that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if there are those who think the appellation "Fort Mac" is disrespectful then I am genuinely sorry they feel that way - but it will in no way impact my decision to use that name or to reconsider where I am "from". I know where I am from, and I know that my endearing term for that place is one that rolls off the tongue (fingers?) and makes me smile. This city will always be Fort Mac to me, and that is how it will be referred to in this blog (except when I am angry, in which case it may get the "full name treatment" just like my kid does when they have ticked me off). So, people, there it is. I'm from Fort Mac - and I'm damn proud of that, too.

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