Category: changing a name
A name is not a small thing. I didn’t realize its full weight until I read Helen Keller‘s account of her genesis in the world of language and identity. In Keller‘s blind, deaf, pre-linguistic experience, there was only sensation. Keller tells how she was given a doll, and how her teacher attempted to tell her what doll meant. “I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor,” says Keller. It was later that same day that Keller discovered language in the experience famously captured in The Miracle Worker.
“Somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me,” recounts Keller. “I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
It was only once the set of sensations embodied by “doll” had a name that Keller experienced guilt. To dash the doll to pieces wasn’t merely changing the experiences: It was destroying its very doll-ness. To understand that identity could be more than mere sensation was the beginning of an entirely new world for her. “When I learned the meaning of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and found that I was something, I began to think,” said Keller. “Then consciousness first existed for me.” It is this process of naming and defining that creates the world of the conscious mind.
For years I worked to consciously create an identity for myself as Rob D Young. I created heavy self-perceptions, definitions, a brand of self. I established a reputation. I decided who “Rob D Young” is.
Then about six months ago I started seriously considering changing my name to Robert Blair in honor of my grandfather. Two years ago my grandfather started bleeding internally for no reason in particular. Not long thereafter he had what he dubbed “a bit of a problem with gravity.” I don’t know how people handle this process; I don’t know how to wait for the death of someone I love. There are so many ceremonies and processes and support systems for the passing of a loved one, but the gradual waning beforehand aches fiercely and we are given little else besides the ticking clock. We remind ourselves to remain grateful for whatever time he has left, and we try not to feel guilty for wanting him to stay around in a breaking body for even longer.
Call it the Great Naming Compromise of 2001.
Other couples sign pre-nups. My husband and I negotiated our children’s names before we cut our wedding cake. The agreement was simple. Our firstborn son would receive his father’s name; our firstborn daughter would be named after my mother. Given that he likes Emily while I prefer Calixto, this was no small compromise.
Our son Alexander arrived in 2004. Alexander‘s grandfather was over the moon to have a namesake. And while our son wears at least four nicknames, sometimes in the same sentence, we’ve been happy with our choice.
Four years later, the ultrasound tech announced that baby #2 was a girl. We had a name, right?
My mother’s name is Clarina. She’s named after her grandmother. Trouble is, Mom heartily dislikes her flowing, feminine name–and forbid me to pass it down. Back in 2001, we’d settled on Claire Caroline as a wearable, grandmother-approved interpretation.
As my due date approached, I worried that we’d inevitably need a way to distinguish the two Claires. My husband agreed that pre-emptive nicknaming is not a bad thing in a family with members known as Bird, Boat, Ritz, Ketch, Rohn, Stir and the Vees.
Only how do you wrest a nickname from Claire?
I pushed hard for Coco, but my husband got more of a “gorilla” than “high fashion” vibe.
With just weeks to go, I decided that Clio needed one more syllable to make her name complete. A friend had mentioned avian names months earlier. As I looked over her list, I noticed Wren–the perfect way to honor my sister, known in the family as Bird.