Names have become an important part of who we are. Though we don’t depend on our name as a basis of our personality, relationships and abilities, it serves as a tool for distinction. Nameplate jewelry has established itself as a timeless adornment, worn by children and adults of all ages. Its importance captured the interest of Marcel Rosa-Salas, a cultural anthropologist, and Isabel Flower, a writer and editor, and inspired them to start the project, “Documenting the Nameplate.”
The project oversees the origins of the nameplate and gives the audience an in-depth view of its growing cultural influence. To make the project more meaningful, Marcel and Isabel have invited the public to share their stories of their nameplates, while being photographed.
The duo held an open call event on June 22, 2018 in a downtown Manhattan studio, where dozens of people came to show their support. All photographs are to be collected for their upcoming book, slated to launch later this year.
We had the chance to speak to Rosa-Salas and Flower about their captivating project and what the nameplate means to them. Check out the interview below along with images from the event shot by Destiny Mata and Naima Green.
By Maria Mora
Snobette: What inspired Documenting the Nameplate?
Rosa-Salas and Flower: “Early in our friendship, we bonded over our mutual love for nameplates. When presented with the opportunity in 2015 to start a podcast, hosted by Top Rank magazine (check it out here), we decided our first episode should be about nameplates—the origins of the style and its cultural significance. We spent several months researching, contacting jewelry historians, asking friends for anecdotes, and visiting jewelry stores around New York.
“We realized there was much more to learn and say about this style and its varying and intersectional meanings and provenances than could fit in a podcast episode. In 2016, we wrote an article about nameplate jewelry for the academic journal QED, and shortly thereafter we decided to start our current project, which is imagined more as an open call, event-based archiving initiative that foregrounds plural and overlapping histories. We want to celebrate the nameplate’s myriad styles and cultural traditions by opening this up to anyone, anywhere, with a nameplate and story they’d like to share.”
Snobette: The nameplate has been around for decades. What about this specific piece of jewelry do you feel has made it so timeless?
Rosa-Salas and Flower: “The nameplate has actually been around for centuries, though we are not able to identify an exact origin, and there are varying though thematically related styles and customs from all over the world. The element of timelessness is perhaps correlated to fundamental, transhistorical concerns about naming, identity, diaspora, and self-expression, which are present across cultures.
Snobette: There’s a negative stigma that comes with wearing a nameplate, often the ghetto card is thrown around. What do you think it’ll take for this piece of jewelry to become widely accepted or do you think it’ll ever be?
Rosa-Salas and Flower: “We are not necessarily asking for nameplates to be widely accepted, as we do not consider becoming popular or mainstream to be indicative of quality or importance. However, we do intend to question systems of taste that demarcate the value of material culture, and that give rise to highly problematic and offensive aesthetic classifications like ghetto.
“In our article, we cite Carrie Bradshaw’s famed nameplate on “Sex in the City” as a proxy for examining the politics of taste at play here, especially when certain nameplate aesthetics can be reviled when worn by lower-income people and people of color, but are then renarrativized as acceptable in certain contexts, such as when worn by an upwardly mobile white woman like Carrie. On one episode of the show, Carrie famously calls her nameplate ‘ghetto gold’ that she wears ‘for fun.’ The uncited, dehistoricized and even contemptuous cooptation of subcultural creative output by those with power and visibility make clear that certain bodies and stories are prioritized over others. This kind of denigrative exchange is typical of how cultural production and provenance in this country is so often distorted.”
Snobette: From the stories you’ve collected, are there any you’ve come across that have made an impact?
Rosa-Salas and Flower: “Perhaps our biggest discovery is the extent to which nameplates have disparate origins and an international cultural reach. We have encountered many coming of age stories about people getting their first nameplate in their late teens, whether in Houston or Philly or the Bronx. We have also heard stories of nameplates as revered family heirlooms, such as grandchildren inheriting their nameplates from grandparents who survived the Holocaust, or receiving them upon birth in Mexico City. Some people have created nameplate mementos to commemorate loved ones who passed away. Others wear the names of their family members, partners, babies, or friends, and some wear many nameplates at once, each with different nicknames and alter egos and affiliations, as a way of expressing the multiplicity of their own identities.”
Snobette: What do you hope evolves out of Documenting the Nameplate? What is the bigger picture?
Rosa-Salas and Flower: “This project is intended to foreground subjectivity and nonlinear history making. We are building a repository of images not necessarily to construct a narrative, but to allow for communal storytelling. We have been hosting events in NYC where anyone can come and have their photo taken with their nameplate. Each time we partner with a different venue, photographer, and sometimes DJ. Our goal is to take this project around the U.S., and the world. Ultimately we are hoping to cull these submissions into a photo book.”