Hope Edelman, today’s guest blogger, is the acclaimed author of the influential bestseller Motherless Daughters; her new book, a fascinating and inspirational personal odyssey titled The Possibility of Everything, is out this week.
My daughter got her name from a San Francisco Guardian newspaper box.
Actually, she got her name from a prophetic graffiti artist who chose a Guardian newspaper box as his canvas. But I get ahead of myself.
It was September 1997, my eighth month of pregnancy, and my husband and I were taking our last pre-baby vacation. All the way up the California coast, we debated what to name our daughter. She was to be named after my mother, Marcia, who’d died when I was seventeen. By Jewish tradition, this meant we needed a name starting with an M. After several false starts we’d narrowed the field to Maya— popular in my husband’s native Israeli culture–and Melanie, just because we liked it.
That evening, we checked into a hotel just outside Chinatown. As we were getting dressed for dinner, the debate continued. Maya or Melanie? Melanie or Maya? The decision felt like a profound one, a label our unborn daughter would carry with her for life, and given that it was one of the very first choices we’d make for her as parents, we wanted to get this one right.
As circumstance would have it, we didn’t have to make the decision alone. When we stepped onto the sidewalk for dinner, we were greeted by spray-painted graffiti letters sprawled across a newsbox right in front of the hotel: MAYA. I stood there staring at the letters in disbelief. Even to a hardcore skeptic like me, it seemed like some kind of sign.
We named our daughter Maya Jill. Three years later, we took her on a journey to Central America to get rid of a troubling imaginary friend, a story I tell in my newest book, The Possibility of Everything.
When one of my friends read an early draft of the book, he was concerned about my use of names. They were just “a little too precious,” he said. “Maya was healed by a Maya healer, and your name is Hope? No one’s going to believe it.”
But what could I do? It’s a memoir. It would have been silly to create pseudonyms for my daughter and myself. So I left our names as they are.
Granted, it was confusing as a writer to have “Maya” describe both a child and a culture. I had to do constant and fancy gymnastics to keep Maya’s name from appearing in the same sentence where “Maya” was also used as an adjective or proper noun (as in “Maya temples” or “the ancient Maya”).
In Sanskrit, Maya means “illusion,” which seems somehow appropriate for a story that’s ultimately about faith. But in Belize, my daughter’s name is a source of amusement. To Belizeans, Maya is the name of a people, not a person. It would be akin to an American naming their child “Navajo” or “Chinese.” They like the name Hope, though. They say we all need more of that.
Is it purely a coincidence that a child named Maya and her parents were healed in the land of the Maya? Perhaps. Who knows? Life receives its richness from the mysterious interplay between all that we can see and explain, and all that we cannot. I didn’t understand this until I went to Belize in the winter of 2000, but the first glimmer of awareness may have been revealed to me on the San Francisco sidewalk. That was the first time Hope and Maya bumped into each other, and squared off face to face.