I Named It, And It Was Good

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Names are powerful words. When we name someone or something, we are giving it an identity that is uniquely individual. Names are so powerful, in fact, they have the ability to define the course of an existence. Names define our history, describe our present, and determine our future. Considering the power of a name, I think it is interesting that our names are decided by someone else. We are named. Someone else defines for us the most powerful identity in our lives. How lucky for me that my name means “golden.” Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I think about the creation story. In Genesis and Moses, we read that God created a bunch of stuff, named it all, and said it was good (eloquent summarization, right?) Here’s where I’m going with this: God created life. He named it because it was important. He named stuff because it was necessary that the things He created had meaning. Our parents did the same thing. They created us, and then to signify the importance of their creation, they named us. And it was good.

What would our lives be like if we were able to name ourselves? What name would we pick? Would we be aligned with our ancestors or posterity? What kind of meaning would naming ourselves have for the trajectory of our lives?

This weekend in India, 285 girls were celebrated in a renaming ceremony. These girls named themselves; 285 girls changed their name from “Nakusa,” which means “unwanted” in Hindi, to a name of their choice with happier meanings. In a culture that values the economic and social worth of men, the families of these girls were disappointed at the birth of a daughter. Daughters, wanted or unwanted, require the families to plan for large and expensive dowries paid to the future husband’s family. For these 285 girls, their parents signified the unimportance of their existence with their name.

But this weekend, that changed. The girls chose their names. They chose their identities. They chose the meaning of their future. The girls picked names that reflect their divinity, their strength, and their individual worth.

I think about my name. As a single LadyMo, my first and last name were given to me and therefore, my identity is completely defined in and by my family. I think about my future name, or the last name I will someday take as my own when I am married. I will have the opportunity to choose my spouse, my name, and determine my future. My first name will forever connect me with the family that made me, while my last name will define the family I will create. With future husband, we will name them and it will be good.

Nat Kelly over at FMH does a better job of explaining what I’m trying to say:

But for me, my married name says more than any of that. It is a name that I took upon myself to symbolize the path of my life. It says to the world, “Now these are my people too.” I picked this name through the careful process of picking my spouse, and the decision did change my whole life. I think it is amazing that my name records the course of my life. I chose to align myself with this man, and that act was so important that my very name had to change to reflect it.

So why is this all important? These young Indian women are exercising an eternal truth very early in their lives: God created us in His image and His image is divine (DC 20: 17-18).

17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;

18 And that he  created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them

These young women are showing their families, their country, and the world (thank you, 24-hour news media) that they are Goddesses and able to create lives – particularly their own. Like Nat said, with the decision to rename themselves, these girls changed their futures and their names will record that new course.

They named themselves and it was good.

So, dear readers, I want to hear from you. What does your name mean? How does your name record the course of your life? Most of you have kids. How did you choose the names for your children? How do their names connect them to your family history?

With so much love,

The LadyMo

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9 responses »

  1. I love this story! Wow! That is seriously an empowering act for those young women. There is something amazing in the air. I loved reading the article you linked to, and seeing some of the names the girls chose for themselves. One of them chose something that means “very tough” or “rock hard.” Love it!

  2. very interesting LadyMo. I’ve been reading and studying about the creation also. That part about the names was interesting and I’ll share a few thoughts about what I learned the next time I see you. My name origin is “Christmas Day” or “Christ’s Birthday” (same thing). I didn’t choose my hubby for his last name that’s for sure, but even so, I love it because it is his, and his family ain’t too shabby either. I do identify with my maiden name and my married name. It does give me purpose and feelings of family. Especially when I am engaged in family history work. My oldest was named after a dream my hubby had and it sounded right to us. Her middle name is also my middle name. 2nd and 4th have no middle name so that they can keep our name when they are married (that was important to me maybe because we ended up having all girls?). And 3rds middle name is a family name on both sides of the family. I never thought much about it, but I guess names really have a lot of meaning in my life. I’ll have to ponder upon that…..Also, short note here, I have heard of a few stories where women have been kept hostage and one of the things the captor does is change the name of the woman and compells them to use it, never to use thier real name again or punishments will follow. They agree out of fear, thus wiping thier identity from them. Interesting though, these woman got to choose thier new names and it was always something that they could draw strength and power from. They always chose thoughtfully and never just picked one. Interesting huh?

  3. If I’m not mistaken I remember a girl that wanted to extend the length of her name by ADDING her future husbands name to her (albeit already long) last name, thus adding to her uniqueness and individuality that we have all come to know and love. I take it some one is getting hand cramps writing her name or are you afraid of carpal tunnel issues with the additional hyphen?

    and btw, the meaning of your “intended” name is “strength and nobility”… we didn’t even think of your name until your aunt put it in our heads the morning you were born. It was because she like the sounds of it, so we had to make a quick change, kept your intended name as your middle name and dropped what was to be your middle name… but that is yet another chapter in your life story!

  4. I don’t mean this as disrespectful in any way, rather as a sincere attempt to understand

    I came of age as a feminist in the early seventies, after leaving a patriarchal religion and breathing the heady air of that time. It was exhilarating, and I’ve never gotten over it.

    If someone had asked me what one of the longest-lasting effects of the seventies feminist movement would be, I would have said without hesitation, that by the turn of the century, at least 75% of women would be keeping their own names after marriage. And yet that option seems to have become almost a non-issue.

    Your beautiful post on “naming” being so powerful reopeed the question for me in the sense that giving up one’s own identify to assume that of another *is* indeed a major symbolic act.

    I wonder what that means to women in terms of their identity? Is it a decision that comes easily? Is it hard to come by? People always said to me “Well, the name you’re keeping is your father’s.” And my reponse was “Yes, but the name my daughter has is her mother’s.”

    Again, no disrespect. Just a really really sincere attempt to understand today’s feminists. Thank you for any thoughts.

  5. Hey Fran! I don’t sense any disrespect from your comments.

    I must be honest and say that I didn’t always feel this way about changing my name. I am one of the spectacular few who have both my mother’s and my father’s last names. It was always interesting when people asked if I was married or what my last name meant. I always said, “the first one is my mom’s and the second one is my dad’s.” In school, and even in my job now, many people just assumed that my dad’s last name was the “real” one and dropped the first half of my last name. I did a lot of work to convince people that my last name was actually _______ – ________. All of it. Mine.

    My decision to change my name at marriage (future, hypothetical marriage) was aided by Nat Kelly’s post over at fMh. I also blame her for my decision to be baptized. (I may just go ahead and blame her here on out for all questionable behavior – smile). While I can’t speak to the experience of today’s feminists (I sure wish I could!), I say that my feminism is grounded in choice. I thank your generation of feminism for giving me wide enough of a definition with which to identify! At marriage, I will have the choice to keep my last name or change it. I suppose I could go all Madonna and just drop it all together, but I love the idea of taking his last name and being able to say to the world (as Nat Kelly wrote in her post) I chose my name by choosing my spouse.

    As PaDukes so noted, his little girl (yeah, that would be me!) used to be very enthusiastic about not changing her name. I thought that I was so unique to have a last name like mine (my sister and I are the only two ________-________s on the planet!). I thought that to give up that name was to give up my identity. Then I think about our sisters in India. They are choosing new names and creating their own identity. Feminism is capable of miracles, and I believe that this is one of them.

    Will I proclaim in a sweeping declaration that feminism means taking husband’s name? Not at all. The work of my feminist pioneers (hat tip, Fran) has paved the way to give me the choice. THAT, I will proclaim, is feminism.

    ps – I love you over at fMh. Nothing you say is ever disrespectful!

  6. I’m not the “Fran” at FmH…I’m the rarely posting “ExCatholic-Ex-Nun” 🙂 So I really *did* leave a patriarchy!

    My son has his father’s last name and my name as his middle, and vice-versa for my daughter. I overheard him explaining this to one of his friends as a five year old, matter-of-factly and as it it were the most normal situation in the world.

    When she was eight, my daughter said “You know, Mum, if I change my name when I get married, and an old friend comes to town that I haven’t seen in a long long long time and she knows where I live but she doesn’t know I changed my name, how would I ever be able to see her again?”

    I don’t know. I guess this is my own particular drop dead issue. I just don’t get it, no matter how many times I try to twist my mind in different directions. And the anonymity of a “Mrs. John Doe” practically makes me sick to my stomach. As I briefly commented on the “Miss Representation” post a few days ago, even identifying a woman (Miss, Mrs) by whether or not she is in a legal relationship with a man…Mega Ugh.

    Mr. and Ms. Why don’t we insist on that? Do women REALLY, regardless of what they , find more status in being a “Mrs?”

    I love Nat Kelly. We went to the same school, and I read everything she says twice. But “I chose my name when I chose my spouse” to me is a well thought out justification for relinquishing your identifty. (I love you, Nat.)

    Please pardon my little (well, very big) rant. I haven’t done this in a long time. I followed your link from FmH because I really liked your post, and well…here I am. No more, I promise. I just pushed the lurk button on the keyboard. 🙂

  7. There are so many Frans in my bloggoworld! Please don’t push the lurk button, I really want to learn more about you and your thoughts.

    I’m super curious – you came of age as a feminist in the 70s but went to high school with Nat Kelly? Confused.

    Woah, former Nun? I’d like to hear more about that! Why did you decide Holy Orders? When did you decide to leave?

  8. Button push. No no no. Nat went to the University of Pennsylvania..she just graduated…I went there to the School of Social Work after I left the convent in 1969 🙂

  9. Okay, I just saw the second half of your question. I didn’t mean not to answer it.

    Just to be clear, Holy is the MEN receive when they are ordained. There is no corresponding for women. Figures, huh?

    I entered in 1959/ I’s always been a “mystical” kid….classical music would transport me to another place that I always idenified with God, from a very early age: I was a star gazer, I meditated, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was, of course, a Catholic, with all those lovely rituals, and candles and incense. I was raised my by Irish-Catholi family that service was central to life, and so I was involved with a religious community that was pretty ahead of its time in terms of not wearing veils and working in the community, teaching catechism to those heathen public school kids 😉 and doing parish work.

    For a service-minded, mystically-bent woman in the fifties there was little choice but religious life, so off I went. I was in trouble a lot, reading Teilhard deChardin and the National Catholic Reporter, but it was Vatican Council II that began my exodus. I really started thinking for myself for the first time, and I didn’t like what I saw about the church. John Paul XXIII was challenging people to See and the community tried harder than most, but for me I needed to be outside. I stopped being Catholic before I left the community, because I figured after ten years I deserved my BA and I was very close. I had also entered my agnostic/atheist phase, which helped when the Vatican representive was a little hesitant to release me from my final vows, (I woud have gone anyway, I was going through the process for my parents.) and a group of us had begun to look at the role of women in the Church.

    After I left, and became acquainted for the with the great feminists of the past and became a part of what was happening in the late sixties and the seventies, I felt like I was breathing air for the first time. There was so much suppression, so ingrained, it was impossible not to be a feminist. (Unless you were Phyllis Schlafly of course, and her many many followers. An agency at which I was Director even invited her to be guest speaker once in her earlier years. It was amazing…the women that began the agency were high school grads and high school drop outs who had started this center because their kids were huffing glue and killing themselves. They had spent five years learning how to approach foundations, write proposals, raised a ton of money, bought a couple of row houses in Philly, renovated them, hired staff, and set up a community center. The women who had done all this work were very articulate in their opposition, although The other women from this low-income, blue collar community were strong supporters.)

    My feeling is that enough has changed, that societal opprssion has lifted , that the fight isn’t as mighty as it was forty years ago. I may be VERY wrong. It just feels that way.

    (BTW, my “Fran” is because I participate on a lot of baseball and football boards, and men don’t take you seriously as “Sheila” or “Ex-Catholic Ex-Nun.” I figure they’re thinking Francis. “Spike” didn’t feel right to me. 🙂 )

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