Finding Identity Through a Trail Name
Trail names are a unique phenomenon of thru-hiker culture. They can start out as silly nicknames or premeditated intentions but can grow into your entire sense of being. There are many different philosophies surrounding trail names; I tend toward more intentional rather than fun, but they are also an inherently fun thing. It’s you but you’re not tied to all of the story lines you might have connected to the identity that’s connected to your real name. It’s an ability to become a different you, less inhibited by life off trail.
I have completed two thru-hikes and have done the first 1,000 miles of a third. And while a lot of people I’ve met who have done multiple trails kept the same name, I changed it between trails. So I have had three trail names. I’d like to tell you about them.
I lean more toward introversion innately, going through phases of more extroverted expression. However, at the time I decided to thru-hike, I had fallen deep into introversion to a depth that I had never seen or experienced before. I describe it as my hermit period, as I didn’t really interact or want to interact with anyone for a good five months. There are many reasons I got there, but mainly I felt as if I could not trust any other person, except my parents.
As I started off in this mind-set, the hermitude, I kept to myself mostly. I can play the strong, silent type quite well, and when I’m in there I can be pretty uninviting. After the first few hundred miles a crew had been working on breaking me down a bit and we all went out to a bar in Big Bear. I’m from a small town in Virginia whose claim to fame is the birthplace of a civil war general, Stonewall Jackson. One of the fellows knew this piece of history as he was from Virginia as well and picked the name Stonewall for me, which felt true the moment I heard it. It fit my style of being at the time as I had a pretty impenetrable outer layer. I became as comfortable telling people my name was Stonewall as it was to tell people it was Bryan. I formed an identity around that name and it felt true for me on the PCT.
I started the AT about six months after I finished the PCT. And for the first hundred miles or so I went by Stonewall. However, I started to notice that it didn’t feel true to call me Stonewall. After the experience of the PCT and the process of integration I had gone through in that six-month period, I felt like a completely different person and it felt like that name wasn’t true to me any longer. So I decided to go with something different.
I had a trail name from a camp I used to attend. The last year I was a camper, we had a long trip and decided to give ourselves trail names. Mine became Leafbear. This name came to me as a possible new name that could encapsulate the new identity I was connecting to. I tried it out but people kept confusing it with Leafbearer. A person who knew me referred to me as Leaf for short, which sounded much less confusing for people to hear. So it was Leaf from there on.
Leaf never felt as true as Stonewall did, but it felt better for the person I was in the AT. It was also the first time I was referred to with a single syllable name. Both Bryan and Stonewall were both two-syllable names, so that was an interesting edge that I noticed come up.
About nine months after finishing the AT, I started an attempt of the CDT. Knowing that neither Leaf nor Stonewall fit for the person who I had become starting that trail, the search began for another name. I was going more intentional and was searching for something that could remind me of an intention every time I heard it. I looked through literary heroes, but was watching Battlestar Galactica at the time and Commander Bill Adama had become someone who I truly looked up to as an example of strength in the world that I wanted to emulate. So Commander came to me, and it felt good. It was exciting to start becoming Commander, to fill in the name with my identity. For a good many reasons, probably another post’s worth, I did not complete that thru-hike. There are no regrets, but it brings me to right now, writing this blog.
I’m attempting the CDT again this year, in 2019. And I’m not Commander any longer. I’m not Stonewall and I’m not Leaf. I have an idea of who I am and will be on this thru-hike, but I think I will be a bit more open this time. Open to whatever and whoever comes. That’s my intention, and I intend to have fun with it.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.