A Middle Name to Grow Into
On the playground, I remember my friends and I trying to guess each other’s middle names. It didn’t take long to arrive at the Elizabeths and Maries, the Annes and the Lynns. But no one ever guessed mine.
“It starts with an ‘S’,” I conceded. My friends scrunched up their faces, thinking hard.
My parents named me ‘Eva Sojourner’, a name which used to embarrass me, as the Sojourner we learned about in school was a famous African-American abolitionist and I am none of those things. ‘Sojourner’ literally means ‘one who travels,’ and they wanted me to live an adventurous and full life — you know, get out and see the sights. This makes sense to me now.
It didn’t back then. Amongst my friends, it became a running joke that my middle name was something too weird to be uttered out loud.
I’m not sure when I stopped being embarrassed by the name ‘Sojourner’ — probably around the time I stopped being embarrassed by everything from my mother’s shoes to my father’s breathing. Or it might have been in eleventh grade when, under the tutelage of my beloved U.S. History teacher, I started learning more about Sojourner Truth during our guided reading period.
“Damn,” he said, looking over my shoulder at the chapter I was reading. “‘Aint she a woman?”
She really was. The most bad-ass kind.
By asking the seemingly simple question “‘Aint I a woman?” Sojourner Truth forced people to reflect on the societal construct of womanhood–who it included and who it left out. She took her pickaxe to the narrow definitions of ‘female’ and ‘feminine’ and carved a space for herself and for women like her.
From what I’ve read about her, I think it’s fair to say that the woman who inspired my name was a dynamo, as unapologetic as she was fervent about demanding justice and not backing down in the face of inequity.
Not a bad namesake. And the implication that I would grow up to travel often and see the world was not lost on me either — I think about it now and then when I reflect on the places I’ve been and the places I still want to go, an ever-growing list in my notebook.
I’ve grown into this name. I may have changed it when I was eight, or eleven, or fifteen, but I wouldn’t want to change it now. Maybe, in a way, my parents knew this — almost as though they looked at me as a newborn and named the adult me instead, based on who they hoped I’d become. Or, knowing them, they just appreciated the name and didn’t think about the consequences.
Either way, having this loaded middle name gives me something to strive towards when I am anxious about change, or when I just want to stay home and close the blinds instead of getting out and experiencing the world. After all, Sojourner means ‘one who travels,’ not ‘one who stays in and watches reruns.’ I think about this when I am at my lowest, and then I force myself to put on pants.
I know it’s a ways away, but I think I’d like to give my future children a similar name, one that inspires them to put on pants (and of course be their best selves) during their darkest days.
If/when my future child chafes against it, I will tell her two of the adult tropes I hated most as a kid — that it builds character, and that she will grow into it. Both, it pains me to admit, seem more and more true the older I get.
Or maybe I’ll succeed in raising a kid that was never embarrassed by her name in the first place. That’s the goal, right? I’ll have to start brainstorming now — a name that will give this future kid the utmost confidence in herself and her place in the world.
I’m open to suggestions.
Eva can usually be found in one of two places: browsing the $2 rack at The Strand Bookstore in NYC or retweeting absurdist twitter accounts (@eva4fr) from the comfort of her bed. Her fiction has appeared in Juked Magazine and you can read her writing at https://evaduns.ky/.
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on March 20th, 2018 at 12:10 am
My middle name is Tossa, which I have always loved
on March 20th, 2018 at 12:33 am
What a stunning name!! Eva Sojourner. So great. The meaning is fantastic and of course the namesake is amazing. Well done, your parents. I’m definitely going to go all-out on my future child/ren’s middle name/s. That’s the place to do it I think!
on March 20th, 2018 at 1:32 am
I agree—Eva Sojourner is awesome.
on March 20th, 2018 at 3:35 am
I agree, it’s a wonderful name!
on March 20th, 2018 at 9:38 am
A middle name to be proud of! What a fantastic name and namesake.
My son has an “embarrassing” middle name (according to some), but he’s named after his beloved great-grandma, who was an amazing lady, and it has the wonderful meaning of “strength; health”. He’s too young to have an opinion on it for now but I hope he comes to appreciate it as you have!
on March 20th, 2018 at 10:28 am
Hmm. I can see it both ways. On one hand, Sojourner is a lovely name and Sojourner Truth is certainly an excellent namesake. On the other hand, what if your kid is an introvert? Or has a physical and/or mental health disorder? Or grows up to not have a lot of extra money that tends to be required for travel? Or just plain prefers staying in and reading a good book to traveling the world? Personally, I have depression and anxiety issues that leave me drained more often than not. Some days, being ‘one who stays in and watches reruns’ is just about all I can handle. I think being weighed down with a middle name like “Sojourner” would probably just make me feel even more guilty and weighed down by the stigma of mental illness even more than I already am.
I’m sure some people will say I’m overthinking or overly sensitive, but still, just something to consider.
on March 20th, 2018 at 11:42 am
It’s good that you have learned to love your name. Sojourner isn’t the prettiest name, but it seems to suit you well, it has a good meaning, you’re named after a wonderful woman, and the name presumably meant a lot to your parents.
I don’t like my first name, I don’t have a middle name and there are no natural nicknames for it so I have nothing to fall back on. That all might be okay if it had actually meant anything to my parents, but it doesn’t – it doesn’t mean anything particularly, it’s a place name, but my parents had never been there until I was 8, and they don’t even agree on who picked it, they both say it was the other.
So it’s great when I child grows into a name they hated as a child, but it doesn’t always happen.
on March 20th, 2018 at 9:36 pm
I know a little girl named Sojourner. Her parents meant it in the Christian sense of “this world is not my home, I am just passing through.” They call her Soji for short.
Anyhow, it’s a beautiful name with a beautiful meaning, I’m glad that the author has come to embrace it. When we named our sons, we thought of who they would be as grown men. We have cute nicknames for them, but hope they will grow out of these and into their full names.
on March 21st, 2018 at 4:01 am
I just want to say, this is SUCH a beautiful article on Nameberry! I can only imagine the crap you went through- sorry about that. Sojourner is such a striking name but more so, it offers some kind of peace and whispers strength. Your parents did great!
As far as the meaning- while it’s awesome that it gives you a boost to explore- don’t let it dictate your true personality and needs. I mean, you could be a natural, meant to be introvert, ya know? Ain’t nothing wrong with that! I think Sojourner Truth’s story is badass and inspiring enough! Let THAT fulfill your heart. I mean, the whole “travel” part is awesome but sometimes “home” and “watching reruns” has its merits too. lol I’m sure you know that!
Either way, you sound lovely and your name is too. Bless you!
on March 21st, 2018 at 9:15 am
Eva Sojourner is freakin’ awesome.
I’m Kaylee Mary. I used to think my middle name was bad, I would tell people it was Marie. When they found out it was Mary, I got a lot of Mary Had A Little Lamb. Elementary school taunts. Mary is for my grandmother, and it’s a long running name on both sides of my family. I realized I came from a long line of strong, great Marys. Now, as I get older, I feel more connected to Mary than Kaylee. I plan on passing Mary on to my daughter one day.
on March 28th, 2018 at 8:15 pm
Love this! We almost gave our son the middle name Sojourner, but after many hours of desperate indecision at the hospital, decided on Meridian instead. Sojourner will stay on our list of options for the next one! It’s an excellent name.
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