I never really thought about my name and didn’t know that anyone did until I was about 11 or 12. It was simply the word that meant someone was addressing me. I neither liked it nor disliked it. So it surprised me the first time a friend shared that she hated her name. I think I would have understood if her name could be easily ridiculed but it wasn’t because of that, it was just a regular name. In university I was friendly with a girl who had legally changed her name from Janet to Diana (pronounced Dee-aana). Knowing this girl quite well, I understood that her name change was less about her hate of the name and much more about her hate of herself and her life. My understanding of the connection between names and emotions grew enormously when my husband and I had to name our first child. Names were immediately discarded if they were existing names of someone we weren’t crazy about, if they were “old-fashioned,” had any potential for being teased or sounded strange with our last name. The task was much greater that I had ever anticipated! After doing this four times I gained some respect for why someone would name her child “Orange.”
What I find more fascinating, are those who would prefer no name. “The artist formally known as Prince” doesn’t count. His name is simply longer now and a pain to get through. However, I recently heard of a girl who has chosen to have no name and is comfortable being referred to as “They,” which, as nameless as that sounds, is now her new name. There seems to be no escape – the need to name and be named.
“Mommy,” “Mom,” or in my daughter’s case, “Mama,” introduced another layer to my name. Despite the universality of these names, when I first heard them, I felt like it was the first time they had ever been spoken. The emotional connection to these names far outweighed any other connections they might have.
When other family babies were born, including my three grandchildren, I was interested in their names but not vested, understanding that I would love whatever name they were given because I would love them. I thought I was done with the whole name thing but I was still to experience one of my most beautiful name events.
When my beloved oldest grandson was born, my son and daughter-in-law asked me what I wanted to be called. I gave it some careful thought because I knew that this would be my name for all my grandchildren, present and future. I settled on “Granny,” and waited. My grandson, now 2 said “Mama,” “Dada,” “Jenky,” (the dog) and even “Grandpa.” I think I drove him crazy asking constantly, “who’s this?” – pointing to myself. I repeated “Granny,” an abnormal number of times, until finally he said, with great clarity – “Gwa-Gwa.” I realized in that moment that the love I had for my grandson meant that he could call me anything as long as he called me something. Gwa-Gwa is my new favourite name.