Dictionary entry (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition) n. Late 16th century, from latin idem= same, probably after entitas = entity, but perhaps associated with identidem = repeatedly. Thus ident– was established as the combining form of idem. Compare IDENTIC, IDENTIFY.
- the quality or condition of being identical in every detail; absolute sameness; an instance or example of this. Also the fact of being identified with. (Late 16th)
- The condition of fact of a person or a thing being that specified unique person or thing, especially as a continuous unchanging property throughout existence; the characteristics determining this; individuality, personality. (Mid 17th)
- Math. a. An equation which holds for all values of its variables (Mid 19th). b. An element of a set which, if combined with another by a (specified) binary operation, leaves the second element unchanged. (L19th). c. A transformation which gives rise to the same elements as those to which it is applied (Early 20th).
- In full old identity. A person long resident or well known in a place. NZ & Australia Mid 19th
Today’s understanding of the noun identity adheres to the second definition given by the dictionary. But before it became so it meant something quite different: “absolute sameness”, and truth be said, wouldn’t a word, like a person, carry its history within its present? The dna of a word we could call it. So identity has something to do with being the same as someone else – could we interpret this in such a way as to associate it with the desire of belonging to a group, small or big, to which I want to identify with so as not to stick out or appear different? It could mean: socially, that we all do the same things at a reasonably similar time of our lives – school, university for those who can, marriage, children, baptism and so on; politically: we try things out here and there but end up in an established party or party line; psychologically: we do all we can not to stand out too much, only enough so as to receive praise for our achievements; culturally: we behave, we think, we talk in a way that is acceptable and accepted… otherwise we are: eccentric, weird, mad… or simply different. And this difference does not lie simply in the colour of our eyes, our hair or even our skin, which of course has further and deeper connotations in our society – let us not forget colonialism, racism… all those –isms. It is a difference caged much deeper, a difference in the essence (of things)… and which inevitably puts those who are different outside the norms.