Choose Your Own Name
“Names have power.”
Rick Reardan (The Lightening Thief)
I woke this morning with the question of “what's in a name” on my mind—don't ask me why. I hardly ever know the why of things. But following up with that thought, I read a lot of other people's thoughts on the subject. Every name has a literal meaning, of course, and you can go to the website Names.com and find what your name means. Mine is Kathryn (Pure) and Jane (God is gracious). Most of us are named for someone else, and by someone else—a parent, a grandparent. A few of us choose other names for ourselves along the way, based on what feels right. One of my sons is the fourth in a long line of descendants with the same name, Joseph (May God give increase)—so he goes by a nick name, Jake. Sometimes a name is given to locate you in a family—such as giving a child the maiden name of his/her mother, just so the family is represented. Some of us identify with our names and their meanings, and some of us don't. I wonder what your name means, and whether you feel it accurately represents who you perceive yourself to be.
According to Jerry Spinelli, author of Stargirl, “I am not my name. My name is something I wear like a shirt. It gets worn. I outgrow it.” This is especially true when we nick name people as children. I remember the jocks in high school giving one another made-up names to indicate belonging to the team—Cooch, and Lefty, and such. My friend, Suzan (Graceful Lily), told me last night that she is called “Booze” by everyone who knew her as a child. I have another friend who goes by “Winkle.” Even her grandchildren call her that! My niece calls her child, Elise (Oath of God) “Lilbit.” As children, we called my cousin, Jerry (Exalted of God), “Pepper.” Southerners are prone to giving people they care about nick names, therefore, it is significant that I never had one. (uh-oh!) My friend, Penelope (Weaver), did not like the fact that everyone shortened her name to Penny, so, she officially changed it to Anna (Favor, Grace, Beauty). It's hard to shorten that!
I like the Native American tradition of giving a child a birth name, but at puberty, sending them on a vision quest to choose a name for themselves. I think mine would be Jane Watching Owl. (I'm certain some of my friends would give me other, less flattering names.) Being encouraged to choose your own name, one that resonates with your soul, seems like a gift of grace to me.
Names have power, which is why we should be careful what we call one another. Like other words, names can lift us up, or deeply wound us. Names given to denigrate and shame others are especially hateful. There's a lot of that ugly-name-calling flying around cyberspace right now. It's not helpful to the cause of peace and human dignity.
I hope you will consider your own name today. Does it represent you at the level of your soul? If you were to change it, what would it be? I just call you “Friend.”
In the Spirit,