A friend recently sent me a list of The 100 Most Beautifully Unusual First Names. I was not surprise to see my given name listed. There have always been those who complimented my name when introduced, but I have never felt comfortable with my given name. It never felt like my name. The first indication of my utter uneasiness with this name was as a child. Because of a speech impediment, I was unable to pronounce my own name. People outside of my immediate family could not understand me when I said my name or anything else. My schoolmates laugh and teased me when I talked.
After having my tongue clipped, a barbaric treatment for what in those days was referred to as a lazy tongue, years of after school speech lessons that my mother worked a second job to afford, and many trips to hearing specialists, I was by the seventh grade comfortable with telling strangers my name. I could finally say my name. However, many asked, “Is that with a ‘d’ or a ‘t'”? Sometimes I still forget to lift my lazy tongue.
As my mother told me the story, I was given the name by an old maid, a term for an unmarried woman in those days, who lived in Prospect Village where I lived until the age of four. She asked my mother if she could name her second born if I were a boy, as my brother was already named after our father? I know. I too hear the echoes of Rumpelstiltskin, but she only wanted to name me.
The woman had one true love who was killed in World War I before he could return home to be her husband. My mother said she had forgotten all about it until the day I was born and the neighbor showed up at the hospital to reminded mom of her promise. So I was given my name after her dead fiancé. A man I never met or knew. I was named to keep alive someone’s memory. Most of us are named after someone else, and not for ourselves.
The name never clicked with me so two years ago on December 31st, 2011, following a revealing dream, I changed my name. I wanted my name to reflected who I am today, to carry me through my remaining years, and my given name was too encased in the past to carry me forward. One can outgrow a name in the same way he/she outgrows a pair of shoes, but to change one’s name is not as carefree as buying a new pair of footwear.
In the past, I admired those individuals like Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and others who changed their given names to reflect where they were going more than where they had been. It may have appeared to the world that these name changes were simply an outward, surface change but I can assure you without a doubt the change came from their soul’s core, as mine did.
As recently as a few months ago, J.K. Rowling adopted the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith to allow her to more easily write in a different genre. This is a common practice with writers. Her name change was a business decision and not permanent. Changing one’s name is a courageous step for whatever reason it is adopted. I know this because of the various reactions I received when I announced my own name change.
Most of my friends easily adopted to the transformation, but a few had difficulty with my decision. They could not understand the why, and continue to use my given name. I have not corrected them in the past because I myself was still in the transition period. I remember how long it took me to refer to the examples above by their chosen names, but now it feels important that I notify everyone again by what name I wish to be addressed.
We don’t have the option to name ourselves when we come into the world but we do have a say concerning the name with which we go back into the world. Most of us will carry the same name for our entire physical existence as a tie to a family or tradition, and some of us for whatever reason will chose not to keep our given names. We make new entries into the Akashic Records and the government’s extensive data base. We receive mail and tax forms with an aka (also known as) following our chosen name. We have friends who cannot see we are no longer the person they once knew, and for that reason they choose to hold on to the past.
To visualize the power of a name think of Louise Ciccone. Okay, you got that? Does that name have any given power in your mind? Now think of Madonna…such is the power of a name.
Change of the past and the familiar is difficult for many, but this I know is true. In the end, “nothing is truly mine except my name. I only borrowed this dust.” My name is Tao.