Home is … ?


There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.
  Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone, on to its fluid contours, and are home.
  Some find it in the place of their birth; others may leave a seaside town, parched, and find themselves refreshed in the desert. There are those born in rolling countryside who are really only at ease in the intense and busy loneliness of the city. (from “Damage” by Josephine Hart)

When completing your Facebook profile, you’re asked to “Add Your Hometown,” a term I’ve always found quite confusing.

Sure, I know what is generally meant by “hometown,” namely the town where we were either born or grew up or both—but why should that particular town/city/hamlet necessarily coincide with the place we percieve as our home?

What ever happened to “home is where the heart is”?

I once heard a psychotherapist on the radio say that as soon as a client of his referred to the place he or she grew up at as “home,” he knew there was “work to be done,” as that person’s umbilical cord had never been properly severed (or something to that effect).

Now, to suggest that home can never be the place where we grew up seems no less ill-conceived a position than to define home as the place where we grew up as if it couldn’t be any other way.

If you could settle down any place on earth, where would it be?

Well, that’s your home, whether you grew up there or not.

Simple isn’t it?

The problem is, if you list as your “hometown” on Facebook a town you didn’t grow up in, most readers will erroneously conclude that you did grew up there, due to the widespread albeit false notion of “home” and “where you grew up” as being synonymous.

It follows that when filling out your Facebook profile, you may actually have to lie—i.e., to knowingly put down incorrect information—in order to avoid coming across as a liar.

Therefore, the folks at Facebook (or anywhere else, for that matter) ought to drop the term “hometown,” as it means different things to different people and hence confounds rather than clarifies.

UPDATE: On The O’Reilly Factor on 14 Oct 2013, Bill O’Reilly referred to Chappaqua, NY, as Hillary Clinton’s “hometown.” (Secretary Clinton was born and raised in Illinois. The Clintons bought their Chappaqua home in 1999.)


  • Richard

    Interesting this. English law talks about domicile of origin and domicile of choice and the degree of difficulty in changing from one to the other.

    Domicile is your permanent home country, and you cannot be without a domicile. Facebook’s hometown seems analogous. I do not think it is a lie to publish a change of hometown.

    Now I’ll watch Elvis and see if he agrees.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      It’s not that it is a lie to list as my hometown a place where I did not grow up. It’s a problem of perception.

      Because if I do list as my hometown a place where I didn’t grow up, those who don’t know me will erroneously believe that’s where I grew up, and those who know me will get the impression I’m attempting to mislead those who don’t know me into believing that’s where I grew up, i.e., that I’m a liar.

      On the other hand, if I put down as my hometown any place other than one that feels like home to me, than I’m the one that feels I’m lying.

      That’s why I choose to leave the hometown field blank.

      • Richard

        If you were to list your hometown as, say, New York, I, personally, would not regard that as a lie, even though I knew you may have been born and grew up somewhere else, in a town in Austria, for example.

        It is always possible that other people might be saddened oto learn that you had, in your heart, abandoned one or another location. It is entirely understandable you may wish to weigh the advantages of making any entry at all.

        Elvis can apply any test he wishes but his solution is somewhat impractical. His Facebook registration likely requires constant updating. If Facebook doesn’t accept a change, it means mentioning it in every message. How does he do it, I ask myself.

        He would be better advised to make the location of a dominant cat his titular hometown. That is not likely to change a lot, if at all.

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

          I’m less concerned about people being “saddened” than being mislead or ascribing to me an intent to mislead. But I suppose that’s a problem to be expected anytime our personal definition of a term or concept deviates from the conventionally accepted one.

          But even leaving aside Elvis’s impractical take on the issue, what would have been his “correct” entry in Facebook’s “Hometown” field by conventional standards?

          Elvis was born and lived in Tupelo, Mississippi until age 13, when his family up and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where he resided for the remainder of his life.

          So according to Facebook, his “Hometown,” presumably, would have been Tupelo, whereas Memphis would merely have been his “Current City.”

          But then again, by all accounts, Graceland clearly was his home for the second half of his life, and it seems somewhat counter-intuitive, if not to say absurd, to suggest that a person’s home could be located somewhere other than in one’s hometown.

          • Richard

            I am sure you are right, theoretically, empirically, morally, philosophically, logically, intuitively, emotionally and, by analogy, legally.

            Elvis lives, anagrammatically, and should be told. No-one likes to be misled.

            • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

              Elvis lives and wears Levi’s, which is the lesser of two evils (as compared to wearing Wrangler).

  • testazyk

    I never thought about it before, but in a mobile society your questions have great validity. And don’t forget about Faulknerian repudiation of birthright which could paradoxically result in someone living in the town where they were born without considering themself to be in their home town.

    Maybe it’s more like the Temptations said it:


    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Interesting. The lyrics to the Elvis song I included in my post also contain the expression “rolling stone.” Rhymes with “home.” Sort of.

      As soon as you define “home” as a place where you feel at home rather than a place where you’re told you’re at home, the Faulknarian notion of living in the town where you were born without considering yourself to be in your home town ceases to be paradoxical.

      • testazyk

        With respect to music, Bob Dylan also said something like:
        To be without a home
        Like a complete unknown
        Like a rolling stone.

        I’m sure the rhyme has something to do with the coincidence! I wonder where Mick Jagger considers ‘home?’

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

          He’s at home whenever he can bounce about like a monkey with a microphone. I suppose an activity can be home, too. More like a home state than a home town.

          • testazyk

            Yes! You can be in your home town but not in your home state. And don’t get me started on Home Land!