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A Middle Name to Grow Into

March 19, 2018 Pamela Redmond
name Sojourner

by Eva Sojourner Dunsky

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.

“…Susan?”

Not quite.

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/.  

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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