What is Identity and What Does It Refer to?

By: Henrique Bertulino

8 min



What is Identity and What Does It Refer to?

The word «identity» is often heard everywhere. People discuss the identity of a company, the law of identity, the identity as a category of philosophical science, the sexual identity, gender identity, the identity of a personality and so on. But what does this term mean, at the end of the day? The understanding and the definition of identity differs depending on who discusses this issue, in what context and with which purpose. While identity may refer to a number of philosophical topics, as well as personal conception/expression, the term itself has the only one source of originating, which is helpful to know if you want to do research on this issue. In this article, you will find the explanation of what is identity from the point of view of different approaches and it will give you essential knowledge to form your personal definition of the term and apply it when necessary.

When it comes to exploring the question of identity, it is important to divide your research into several parts. The first part would refer to the definition of what is identity through the prism of philosophy (which has a number of branches which identity has to do with). The second part would refer to the personal conception and expression of identity (in this case, you are going to deal with a number of aspects covering identity). The third part would refer to the group expression and affiliation of identity, which would also include subtopics and explanation of the term through the prism of different phenomena. Having said that, these are only a few fields that provide various definitions of identity.

The Origins of the Term

When it comes to the philosophical topics enlightening the issue of identity, the first thing you should be aware of is the origins of the term. The first time this word was used in Latin meaning «sameness» and identifying in what way something can bear the sense of itself. In this case, it is essential to note that such approach to defining identity differs from the psychological or social approach due to the emphasis on relation. When we discuss the term in the light of psychology, we mean the self-conception of a person, how that or another person imagines and represent himself/herself, in what way a person is unique and what makes this person different from other people.

Another philosophical approach to explaining the term «identity» deals with logic and one of the laws of though, where the law of identity comes first. This law says that everything around is the same for itself and at the same time, it is different from all the rest of things existing in the world. While this law may be difficult to understand, it wold make sense to explain it in a more simple way. Generally speaking, it is about the same set of characteristics that all the things in the world have and about how different the characteristics that different things have are.

Finally, another field in philosophical science that covers the matter of identity is personal identity. Here, the discussion deals with the question about the changes happening to a person at different periods of time. In other words, can one person be the same at different periods of time? When talking of personal identity, you should remember that it is not quite the same as the personality. In fact, these two phenomena are absolutely different, although there are philosophical theories arguing that they are closely connected to each other and can be researched only in their connection and never separately. In any case, personal identity tries to find out and explain what a human being actually is. While many people arguing that we all are just animals, from the philosophical point of view a human being cannot exist without consciousness. Thus, there is a dilemma between two approaches to understanding of what is identity, each of which has its benefits and weaknesses.

Personal Conception and Expression Through the Prism of Identity

If to consider an identity to be a set of features and characteristics that a person may have, we should pay attention to the factors that influence this identity and play significant role in forming them. The environment that a person lives in creates conditions that in that or another way make an impact on a person. This impact may be good or bad, but nobody can avoid it. In any case, knowing what these factors are and what their roles are may appear to be very helpful in understanding of what is identity and what it means in the context of personal conception and expression.

The factors that distinguish one person from another can be the following:

  • The cultural identity. This is about belonging to a particular group. As a matter of fact, every person belongs to one group or a number of groups, which is characterized by specific culture expressed by nationality, religious views, racial features and so on. Today's society differs from the societies of the past due to unlimited possibilities to form any kind of group in order to express any kinds of beliefs, including religious.
  • Another factor is the gender identity. It deals with how a person experiences her/his own gender. Obviously, men and women have different basic set of personal features. By these features, we mean a system of basic gender categories that form a ground for further formation of personal qualities. As a result, there is an image of how a man has to behave and what behavior is the most appropriate for a woman.
  • The next factor is the identity formation. This term serves to explain the process of the personal formation as an individual. This can deal with a certain period of life, when the circumstances have especially strong impact on a person, and when the person becomes to be recognized in the society. In other words, it is about how people recognize the person and how the person represents him/herself to the people.
  • From the point of view of social science, identity is the category that allows one person or a group of people be different from one another. It refers to a number of qualities that make an individual/group unique. There are three elements of identity in social science, which are the self-image (in the meaning of how a person can describe her/himself), the self-esteem (how a person can evaluate her/himself) and, finally, the individuality.
  • Persona is the factor that identifies the role of a person in the life. This role may be the role of a mother, father, boss, teacher, president, actor, and so on. The point is, this is about what the person does in life, what kind of social obligations he or she has, what role plays, etc. According to the original meaning of the word «persona», this is about the mask that every person puts on every day when playing certain role.
  • One one the most important factors is sexual identity. Many scientists and researchers argue that this factor is the most significant factor in human's behavior and that it determines everything about a person, all the specificities of the character, all the attitudes, beliefs and so on. Sexual identity is how a person imagines him/herself in the context of sexual and romantic relations.
  • The last factor is the national identity. Obviously, this is about belonging of a person to a particular nation. National identity is a kind of a specific feeling that a person has in regard to the country he/she lives in and to the people living there also. In addition, this is about how people identify themselves with one another, while demonstrating their belonging to the only nation.

While there are many approaches to explore and research identity, to know and understand identity, etc., the question of how to find your own identity is still not answered. Among so many different theories there is still nothing explaining this particular problem. At the same time, there are several steps that can help you find out your identity in this big world full of billions of other identities. Keep reading to learn them.

How to Find Your Identity

Since we have enlightened the question of what is identity a little, it would be good to find out what makes you different from others and what identity you personally have. Therefore, look at the following steps:

  • Take use from the non-identifying records. This information will be helpful in identifying basic data about you in order to have what to start with.
  • Look for identifying records. As a rule, they are available to use, if nothing else is prohibited by the law of your country. This would be your second step.
  • Find out the legal background in the context of all the documents that you might use during your research. You need to know your rights in case if you will not allowed to see files that are legally available to everyone.
  • Know the risks that you may face during your research. For example, if you are adopted, there is a possibility that your biology parents will not want to see you and you nave to be ready to it.
  • Know your specificities. Every time you find something special about yourself, you should write it down and analyze later.
  • Ask yourself questions. The more questions you will ask yourself, the better you will know yourself. For instance, you may start with what is identity and how you can explain it through your own personality.
  • Pay attention to other people, their behavior and find out what common and different features you have.
  • Accept yourself the way you are. Once you understand and fully accept yourself, you will start loving yourself and this will lead you to the answer that you have been looking for.
  • Read a lot. Read smart and interesting books and you will see how better you become. You will face all the challenges that life throws into you much easier and the question about identity will not scare you so much anymore.

All these steps will hopefully help you in dealing with writing assignment covering the issue of identity. In case if you need assistance or any kind of help with your studies, please consider professional writing services. Some of them are listed below:

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Henrique Bertulino

Head of Customer Success

I'm a medical doctor and brand manager. The process of getting into Med school and studying at it made me learn and apply many strategies to keep my productivity high while spending less time and effort. As a working student, I had to figure out how to study smarter, not harder. During this period, my interest in neurology and psychiatry, as well as my aspiration to help others, intensified. At Studybay, I use my knowledge, skills, and experience to develop helpful solutions for students and make their study paths more productive and fun.

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