Recently I wrote about the first day of school and included a memory of the year I changed my name. It did not work out.
I remember the year I was going back to Piedmont Junior High School in the eight grade. Thirteen years old. You know how you can feel desperate for a new start when you are thirteen. So, when school started - I changed my name.
The first day of class when my home room teacher asked my name I told her it was "Hester" - go figure - this was my new start?
I don't know where that came from. Since I wanted a life-change why didn't I pick something glamourous like Rita or sweet and cute like Judy. Hester calls up images of Nathanial Hawthorne - like harsh, freezing winters and tall, gaunt, and austere women. Its time for the truth - my choices have always been a little off.
Now, I was not changing schools. I was returning to the same school - under a new name. Everyone except the new teachers knew my name was Ellouise. I was Hester to two teachers and Ellouise to everybody else.
The game was blown for good on parents night when Mama explained to the those two teachers that she have never named a daughter of hers Hester.
So much for my new start. Or maybe, I should be thanking my mother for saving me from myself.
Well, at the Williamsburg Storytelling Festival storyteller, Onawuni Jean Moss told a story of how she went about changing her name when she wanted to reinvent herself as a storyteller. Her re-invention has certainly been a success. And as she told the story I saw where I had gone wrong.
She did not just pick a name from a book and tack it on. She called a colleague at Amherst College and asked him for a ceremony from the African traditon which would select the right name for her and endow her with her new name.
I was caught by the beauty of that. Not just reading a list of names but looking for a name that would speak of the gifts she had been given and those she had to give.
That's where I went wrong. At 13 year I did not know who I was much less know how to recognize gifts and blessings.
Her story also made me think about the risk and responsibility we take as parents when we assign names to our children. What if its not the right name?
Whew! I am glad I am past that - and if the names I gave my children didn't work out - they can change their names with my blessing - I won't tell a soul.