Friday, September 25, 2015

What’s in a Name?

            I must have called her by the wrong name. She looked just like Linda at my old school, but in the new school she was Joyce. I almost never call people by their name because their faces shoot poisoned arrows when I get it wrong. There were always at least two Lindas and Nancys and Joyces in every school. If I didn’t have a name, no one could forget it or remember it. They would often spell my name wrong, with a “y” or a “j” instead of an “i.” I never met anyone with my name until I was 30 years old. It was exciting, like proof that I existed. A friend’s daughter was always one of two or three Sarahs in her class. When she went to college, she decided to change to a nickname. She polled everyone she knew and settled on Sadie, a name common among my grandparents. How does it feel to have a common name? When I first went to eastern Europe, there were three other Sonias at the conference, with the “i” and with the “j,” even a Sanya. I had slipped into a slot that fit exactly. My name had become a tribe. My daughter’s name, Christie, can be spelled at least six different ways, and it’s not short for anything. She hates to see it spelled wrong, as though she is someone else. A name has power, but to be nameless is freeing. A name ties you down to one meaning, an anchor to safety, but also a weight to drag you down.

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