Names have power

I remember names badly, and remember screen names, or aliases even worse. This seems unfair when I use several names through the SCA, and even using Tchipakkan since I went to college. We are, in theory, allowed to choose nicknames, or use names, although sometimes they are chosen by others, and are certainly not the names we would like. Childhood nicknames may follow us beyond the point when they are comfortable. I think we recognize that your name describes who you are. When we hear a name, it describes who we were when we were using that name. This is why we can be John to strangers, Johnny to our family, and maybe Jack to friends at work, as we try to differentiate our roles, our differing selves.

My mother encouraged me to pick a new name to introduce myself when I entered a new school. This gives you a chance to define who you are and how you are seen- or see yourself- in a new group. No one in our culture is surprised when a woman changes her last name to her husbands, although we have long abandoned the cultural significance of this, along with bride prices and dowries.  Ever since I heard of cultures where people took on different names when they became adults, I have thought that this was a brilliant idea. I know so many people who change their names- start using a middle name, or even take something completely different. Still we need some rite of passage to try to get some people to accept that people moving from the role of a minor to an adult have changed. Parents may say: “You’ll always be my baby!” and this may be why they find it hard to accept the new name chosen by their offspring.

We use different terms of address without considering them “name changing”: Mom, Mrs. Smith, Joan, Grammy, Sweetheart, or some unique reference to a personal reference like Sunshine or Dude. But these are often simply expressions for how someone in a relationship sees us. A name is arbitrary, but stands for something in our minds, like   “favorite daughter.”

My mother said that one of her friends had once told her that it was only natural, and everyone had a favorite child (even if it wasn’t acceptable to admit it).  She admitted that given the sincerity of the claim, it was probably true for some people, but certainly wasn’t true for her. Still, and this was one of the most wonderful things she ever told me, she did tend to feel that each one of her children was her favorite- when she was with them.

I think I feel the same way because we exist in a constant state of flux, wherever we are, whoever we are with, that’s what we are experiencing now. Every single “THIS dinner” has the potential to be the best we’ve ever eaten. Every single day has the possibility of being “the best day”, every person we deal with the person who has taught us the most important lesson. Not all fulfill that potential, but still, maybe that’s why I have such a hard time remembering names. I wish I did remember them better- a name is a personal label, something that represents you. That’s why in most magickal systems, if you know somethings true name you can control it. But is there something so unchanging inside anyone?

There was a story in the Fantastic Four comic once with a visitor called Mr. Impossible, who when asked his name said “We Popupians have no names. We know who WE are!” Our names are the handles that other people attach to us so they can talk about us. They reflect more how they see us than how we see ourselves. When we choose a new name, we are creating an expression of who we want to be (or how we want to be seen). I can’t imagine that one name could express everything someone is, so I think we need to just accept that it reflects a facet of the great many faced reality someone is.


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