Image by Maggie Bao

Note: Please note that throughout this article, I may switch between personal pronouns. This is on purpose, which will hopefully be explained by the article’s topic (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Typically, ‘I’ describes a specific alter, whereas ‘we’ is used for our collective system in this shared body. A glossary of terms used is at the end of this article. 

Our priest at home texted us today, asking what name to put in the church’s ’Who’s Who’ booklet. A simple question, right? Wrong! When you share a body with fifty other people, it becomes a rather complex question. For a long time after discovering our DID, we continued to go by our old host’s then-nickname. It had been at least two years since we had abandoned our body’s legal name, a name itself ridden with trauma and the dread that rises when we hear FirstMiddleSurname. That name never felt like us. Yet, we needed to be called something, so we stuck to the chosen name we had meticulously transcribed onto all forms as ‘preferred name’. 

Quickly, we learnt that it felt dismissive to be referred to as a name that all except one of us couldn’t claim. We realised we were putting others’ comfort and ease above our own. But how do we tell people they need to ask us our name each time? How do we feel safe claiming our names as our own? 

Our names have meaning. Some alters come with their names, whether for some significant reason (Evelyn, for example, is due to an important family member), a name related to the trauma they went through, or because they are an introject (like JJ, who is an introject of the character of the same name in Criminal Minds). 

Other alters have chosen their names after fronting for the first time; indeed, targeted advertisements have started to recommend us products for pregnancy and new parents, simply because we look at baby name websites a lot! This process of trawling through thousands of names to find the one that clicks is vital: we can choose how we want to be known, and we can choose a name that is our own. 

Due to DID being caused by ongoing and severe childhood trauma, our identity was eroded. We were not allowed a childhood, we could not have a role outside of being a victim, and in some traumatic situations, we were reduced to a number as our only identifier. Now, as we have grown older and have started the heartbreaking process of healing and processing, we are reclaiming who we are. We can have personalities of our own (indeed, our interests are many, varied and sometimes surprising!) and we can be called by name. 

Still, it causes much confusion when someone asks what our name is: there are too many to choose from! We may be able to rattle off the list of prescription medications we need to collect from the pharmacy, but the second they ask our name, we stammer and stutter. Who we are to the outside world is not who we are to ourselves. So, to identify ourselves as a collective to the outside world, we picked a system name. This process was even more complicated than deciding who we are as individuals. Still, it was markedly easier than it could have been, as when we picked our system name, we were only a system of eight people, not over fifty! Eventually, we settled on Patronus, hence why we use this surname. The Latin word means ‘guardian’ or ‘protector’, which is what our system is to us. Having DID is by no means a wonderful thing, but I certainly will remain eternally grateful that my brain and the universe granted us this coping mechanism. We all have our roles, and together, we can hold and heal from trauma; together, we are the protector we never had as a child. 

What noise should I make to get your attention? 

That, ultimately, is all a name is. Dolphins have unique clicks, and I highly doubt you’ll ever know of a dolphin that sentimentally called their child the same pattern of clicks as a grandparent. We have dissociated from our birth name, a gift that was given with ties we do not want. We have embraced our names, whether chosen or an innate part of us, as signs of individuality and identity beyond our victimhood. We have celebrated our system name as a symbol of hope. Names are immensely significant to all, but for us, they bring joy and recognition. 


DID: Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder. A condition where a child’s brain, due to extreme and ongoing trauma throughout childhood, does not form the same way as most people, leaving a person with distinct identity parts and a level of amnesia between them.

System: the term people with DID typically use to describe themselves as a collection of alters.

Alter: a distinct identity part within the system. Others may call these parts, identity states, headmates, or simply people. Some still use the term personalities, though this is less common and can cause controversy. Alters can be different ages and genders, look different internally, use different names, and have different interests and personalities.

Fronting: a term used for when a specific alter is out and doing things as themselves.

Host: the alter in the system who fronts most often. For some, this is the alter who identifies most with the body; some systems do not have a single host or any at all. 

Introject: an alter who is formed based on an outside person or character. Typically, they share characteristics with the person, and it is these traits that the system requires to survive trauma, hence the formation of an alter.  

Resources on DID: 

FPP charity (legacy site) 

Mind (Instagram)