What’s in a name?

A lot, IMHO.

Last night I was politely hiding in my bedroom while Middle Sister had a pile of her high school friends over for a buddy reunion. I was not intentionally listening, mind you, but it’s a small house and they were just a few yards away, sooooo…

As one friend arrived (Meghan, who we’ve known since kindergarten), I heard Middle Sister ask her, “So I noticed your Facebook name is Maggie now. So should I call you Maggie or Meghan?” The answer: “I’m going by Maggie now.”

This exchange made me think back over my years of teaching and otherwise working with families, and remember the times that a child’s sudden name change was a huge red flag that something REALLY not good was going on in that child’s life.

imageThere was the 6th grader named Cherie. At least that’s what she was called when I first knew her. By springtime she had moved in with an aunt and was suddenly “Cherene.” The following year she went by “Sherry.” That was my first puzzling experience with a change of first name out of the blue, and I did not fail to note that this young lady was a hot mess. In every imaginable sense of the word.

Then there was the fourth grade girl whose mother abandoned the family. The kids were farmed out to various relatives. Frankie went to her grandmother, who was extremely vocal about hating her granddaughter’s name (which was taken from the girl’s father’s name, “Frank.”). Frankie immediately became Charlene. And Charlene was soon exhibiting “child at risk” behaviors. It was painful to observe.

More recently, a family member of mine, who struggles with more than one serious mental illness, suddenly became “Sadie.” I won’t reveal the name I’d known her by since the day she was born, but it was not Sadie. Knowing what she was dealing with emotionally when Sadie appeared, I feel certain the change of name was a desperate attempt to change into someone entirely different. Heartbreaking.

Names are important. Consider biblical examples. Abram and Sarai, when they were called to be the patriarch and matriarch of God’s people, changed to Abraham and Sarah. Saul went from breathing threats and murder against The Lord to being Mr. Über Disciple (and Mr. Über Likes-the-sound-of-his-own-voice) with the new name of Paul.

And what about the cultural traditions surrounding name change and marriage? There’s a whole world of hidden meaning there.

I recall how much fun The Husband and I had trying out and rejecting name after name as each expected child came along, until the perfect name appeared for each one. It was a joy each time, and I can’t imagine any of our darlings going by some other name. There have been nicknames, of course. Terms of endearment. But their names are who they are.

(Here I am conveniently ignoring the fact that for years I have gone out of my way to annoy The Boy every morning by greeting him with a new, stupid nickname. Chicken Legs. Pinkerton. Mr. Mac and Cheese. Long John Silver. Whatever pops into my head. Man, I’m funny. Thankfully he has never adopted any of these goofy names as a permanent persona. That would NOT be funny.)

Names have the power to show love. They also have the power to control, to subjugate, to harm, to re-invent. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – names – can make or break me.”

And I remain the same –

-Just plain, always-the-same-name, Amy


5 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I never thought of a person changing their name being in some kind of trouble. It makes sense. I have friends from childhood who always called me Ape. To this day, I’m still Ape. However, I hated that nickname…


    • I can certainly see what you didn’t care for that nickname! I think I’ve known some perfectly healthy people who have chosen to do a name change, but more often than not it seems to go along with some serious issues, in my experience.


      • My sister changed the spelling of her name from Betty to Bette. I never figured that one out. Maybe it was easier for her to write. She pronounces it the same.


  2. I once met a woman who legally changed her name at least 3 times. It’s an expensive affair to do it just the one time, but THREE TIMES? I was thinking of her (now going by the name M—– Raven) as I was reading this, and you’re right – there’s definitely the desire for re-invention behind a name change.


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