This essay is about the social and material history of nameplate jewelry and its significance in American culture. We argue that the nameplate is an object where conversations and contentions surrounding identity, style, and power converge. Whether it be a necklace, ring, or pair of earrings, the nameplate is both specific to the wearer and exemplary of a collective style, therefore existing in a space of simultaneous conformity and nonconformity. By examining the nameplate’s genesis in mass American culture, we will examine how the discourse surrounding the style’s ostensible “tackiness” is rooted in notions of taste and aesthetics that are shaped by hierarchical race, class and gender politics. Engaging with Bourdieu and Duchamp’s theories on taste, we show how the myriad forms the nameplate takes and the conversations about style that circulate around them reveal struggles of cultural dominance and appropriation. We will close with a discussion of how the expression of personhood can be a political act and claim to citizenship.

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