What’s Really In A Name?

Names are rather important things.  They give a sense of purpose as well as a sense of pride in perhaps being named after an ancestor, besides the fact that names are rather handy in addressing a person besides shouting, “hey you!”  But what if the name just isn’t a good fit for you?  What if you dream of other names you could have had bestowed upon you?  Perhaps you do love your name.  Names dwell in their own eccentric world that’s never very cut and dry for the wearer.

Sarah Katherine.  This is the name that my parents finally settled on after eliminating about a billion others.  Actually my mother was convinced that I’d be a boy, and penned a slew of names on a list, most of them something to do with the names Michael or Stephen; both of which are names I greatly dislike.  But, none-the-less, I was born a girl, and therefore my mom chose Sarah.  My mom was also fond of the name Hannah.  I’m not too fond of it, but my mom did have a school mate named Hannia, which is the Latin American version, so if she’d gone that route…  Hannia Katherine seems perfect; though to be honest, my mother would have forgone the wonderful chance to broaden a name past traditional borders.

But, my dad felt that kids would make fun of me if my name were Hannah, and I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s not as if my name were going to be Gaylord or Armadillo or something that kids would most certainly make fun of.  Did kids name fun of the name Sarah?  You betcha!  Did they make fun of me regardless of what my name was?  Absolutely!  So, not a lot of very sound logic to avoiding that name choice.

I have never really liked the name Sarah, nor felt like it embodies who I am.  Perhaps I was meant to have an H name, because when I started writing my name I wrote it SaraH and always emphasized the H at the end by making it larger than the S.  I am at least glad that they chose the version with an H.  Without it, it doesn’t seem as anchored and feels to flighty for me; somehow lacking.

I do love the fact that I have a namesake in my middle name of Katherine, being named after my grandmother.  Also that it’s spelled with a K.  I like the strength of Katherine with a K.  Give it a C and it seems too much like a push-over, a delicate dandy.  Do, I tell that to people of the Catherine persuasion?  Of course not.  That would be rude.  Does my mother imply to Catherine’s that their name is the far inferior version?  Yes.

Which brings me to how odd it was that Katherine even became part of my name.  My mother didn’t care for adopted mother, so it’s beyond rational reasoning as to why she would even care which version of Katherine is better.  Also, my dad is the one that chose it for me.  My dad chose his mother in law’s name; a woman he didn’t get on with either, to be his youngest childs’ name.  Why?  The only thing he’s ever said on the matter was that he wanted a link to family.  Why not choose his mothers name?  He doesn’t answer that one.

However, Katherine doesn’t really seem to fit me either.  Not as a stand alone name.  I did try going by it, rather than Sarah.  I even tried going by nicknames of it, because it’s too much of an imposing name; so nicknames such as Kit and Kitty, because honestly I’m not a Kate or a Kat.  People just made fun of me for going by something other than Sarah.  Honestly, none of it felt right to me either.  They felt about as right as Sarah, which is to say, not so much.

My grandmother, though, could pull it all off.  Apparently she really was born to be a Katherine.  She was christened Mary Katherine, but never used the Mary.  People even gave her a Katherine nickname of Kappie when she was in high school and at university.  She did seem very much like a Katherine too.  She held that name well.  I’m still glad it’s part of my name.  I liked having a strong bond with her, a woman who wasn’t blood related to me, but who still accepted me.  She didn’t make fun of me for being overweight, unlike other people in my family, for one.

It still does seem strange to me that my dad wouldn’t choose his own mother’s name of Betty.  Betty is great name.  She was Betty Jo, which my sister & think is cute, but my grandmother seethingly hated the Jo part.  I think the name Betty is even greater because it wasn’t being used anymore, unlike the heavily over-used Sarah during the late 70’s and early 80’s;  plus Betty just has a nice ring to it.  Much better than if she had been named Elizabeth, which is too formal and a name which I don’t much care for.  Betty however, is short and sweet with a bit of a bite.  It’s not complicated, and you’d be hard pressed to meet many Betty’s under the age of 80 now.

It’s also strange considering that my own dad lamented about not being named Merrell, after his own father.  I think Merrell (and according to Arkansas people of the twenties it’s pronounced mer-uhl, and not mare-ill like Meryl Streep) Irvin has a nice ring to it, as opposed to Paul Irvin, though that one is nice enough.  Hell, my parents could have named me Merrell (since it is a girls name too) and that would have been just peachy keen by me.  So, you would think he’d be determined that someone have one of his parents’ names, but apparently not.  I don’t know if I’m actually a Betty or a Merrell, but they are nice names and I would have been happy to have one of them.

There are other names I’ve always envisioned for myself, though if they’re perfectly me, I couldn’t tell you.  Helen, Vivienne, Joaquin (not the actor Phoenix, but El Bandito!), Junethon (pronounced Joo-neh-thon) which I came up with. Thank you (takes a bow).  No need for applause.  (Yes, I’m being funny.  But not about Junethon, it’s a great name.)

I’m also not the only one to try on different names in my family.  My sister proclaimed in the seventh grade that everyone in her class should henceforth call her Ian.  Even though there was an Ian in her class.  A guy born the same day as her.  He was not thrilled.  No one called her Ian.  So neither was she, thrilled I mean.

My parents named her Rebecca Dianne.  She absolutely adores the name Rebecca, though spell check certainly doesn’t.  She recalls being exceptionally proud of such a big name when she was three.  While she likes Dianne, she doesn’t really like sharing my mom’s middle name, like they couldn’t come up with something more original.  It might also be the fact that she’s had to share other things with mom a lot over the years; considering that Mother’s Day will coincide (or should I say collide) with her day of birth.  She too, wouldn’t have minded being named Betty.  Missed the boat there, mom and dad, for either of us!

So my mom is no stranger to the name struggle.  She was named Rachel Dianne at birth.  When she was adopted, my grandmother changed her name to Jill.  Just Jill.  No middle name.  I actually like the name Jill (though the lack of middle name is disheartening), but my mother always despised it.  She much prefers her birth name, though I’m not a fan of either of her birth names, so am glad that they didn’t end up being my mine as well.

She also liked the man who adopted her, so while she did legally change her name to Roberts after marrying my dad, she detests that name and always goes by Summers if she is able.  I understand liking your pre-marriage surname, but it’s like a slap in the face to my dad and his dad (whom she also liked a great deal) to detest the name of Roberts so much.

My maternal aunt does like the name that was given to her of Janice Andrea, but I suppose it does beat her birth name of Barbara Anne any old day.  It’s not merely because I can not imagine her as a Barbara Anne, because I haven’t heard people calling her that my entire life; it’s just that she isn’t a Barbara Anne at all.  Do names help in making us who we are?  Would she be a Barbara Anne had that been her name growing up?  I don’t know.

I have a great aunt on my dad’s side named Martha Sue.  My paternal grandmother came from a family where my great grandmother loved double names.  The middle name to her was just part of the first name.  So, as a child my grandmother wasn’t simply called Betty; she was called Betty Jo.  It was the same with Martha Sue.  To add insult to injury, her own family couldn’t even pronounce it correctly.  They could say Martha just fine, as could they with Sue.  But making them one name, and my family called her Motha Sue.  I don’t know when she dropped the Sue.  Probably pretty early after leaving and residing in a different state.  Every family reunion she’d grit her teeth at hearing her family refer to her as a moth.  It’s hard to inform family of things, so it could have taken her fifty years, but one reunion she curtly stated, “It’s just Martha now.”  And that was that.

I understand name struggles, but I was there the year she made her statement.  Martha Sue was dead.  She no longer existed.  Now was this Martha standing there in the new dining hall kitchen and a weird shift happened.  I’m not saying her family turned on her or chastised her, but it was almost as if a sort of death had occurred and things wouldn’t ever really be the same, which in a way that is exactly what happened.

The same shift happened when my mother announced that she wouldn’t be going by Jill anymore.  I never knew Jill, because Jill died right before I was born, so I’ve only ever known Rachel.  But, everyone that knew her before continued to call her Jill, though Jill she was not.  My dad’s family still calls her Jill, as do her old school mates.  My dad, however, does not, unless he wants to end up in very hot water.  But, you can tell that my dad misses Jill.  Jill is the fifteen year old girl he fell in love with, and Jill is who he married, raised a bunny with, bonded over their son, and Jill who had their first child.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, as a kid, that my dad told me that Rachel is not the same person as Jill.  Or my sister recounting how much fun Jill was, nothing at all like Rachel.  Or my mom’s old school mate, saying, “Jill has changed.  She’s not the same anymore.  Oh… I mean Rachel.”  It may have been the name my mom was born too, but She was Jill from a month after birth until she was 29.  It’s not that people dislike or hate my mom, but nobody is overly fond of Rachel.  They all miss Jill to the moon and back.

Names are funny things.  There’s so much impact on a person just from a name, and it effects everyone they come into contact with.  After so long being one name, can you every really change?  How can the change of a name be felt as a death?  I realize deaths always occur, and I mean, little deaths; little shifts in people’s personal lives.  But are names some sort of entity of their own, holding our essence and should we choose to abandon one name for another, do we really change who we are inside?  Have we changed so much, or is it the perception of others that has changed?  Perhaps it’s both.  Perhaps we give too much to names; we give them some sort of power that they were never meant to possess.

Lots of cultures have varying name practices.  Naming a baby something disgusting or ugly so that evil spirits won’t want to steal it away.  Or giving new names to a child into adulthood because a name is too rigid for movement so boundless in fluidity.  The child shouldn’t be shackled with an old name they have outgrown, but need a new one to fit the new person they are in the moment.  Or not naming a child at all until a certain age, because by not showing too much love, they won’t be stolen away; or perhaps because they must first earn their name after having lived a certain number of years.

There’s always the old western civilization tradition of a woman ditching her surname in honour of her husbands upon marriage.  There was also the renaming of African slaves in the America’s.  Giving them a proper biblical name and tacking on the masters surname to round it all off.  Surnames that have still survived into today’s American culture, because these people have no other name to go back to; their stripped and tattered names long forgotten by the span of centuries.

Names are powerful and there’s a lot more to a name beyond its supposed meaning and origin found deep within the pages of a baby name book.  I’m just not entirely sure if we change them to fit us, or if it’s the other way round.  Also, I’m not certain if they come with their own sort of power, or if we freely give it to the name.


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