Author Archives: Amabel Kylee Síorghlas

About Amabel Kylee Síorghlas

Writer, editor, & writing coach. English professor. Musician.

Who are you talking to? Contemplations a year and a half after my legal name change.

Kyle. Kyle?? Who were they talking to? I wasn’t sure. At first it was like being in a dream. For Kyle was no longer me. Coming to awareness, I realized that I no longer recognized my given name on cue.

Changing one’s name, as anyone who has done it knows, is a deeply thoughtful process, often spurred by a myriad of complex reasons. For me, I changed my entire name—first, middle, and last. This brazen process took about three years and some experimentation of trial and error, much to the confusion and irritation of certain friends and family members. For it is a big deal to change one’s given name even ONCE, but when it turns into an art project—because I simply had to find the RIGHT name—one can earn the doubts of unenlightened acquaintances as to whether you might be [insert whisper behind the hand here]: crazy. No. I most definitely am not – crazy.  Much. For aren’t we all, a little … crazy after all?

There were many reasons I thumbed my nose at convention and waded into this mysterious process of name changing. I say waded, because I was timid at first. This may be why it took me three tries to find the right name. I didn’t quite dare go for broke. I tried a slight change first, then a bolder one, and finally the name I made legal, that I love: Amabel Kylee Siorghlas.

This process was not without pain. Despite efforts to communicate openly and to be considerate in the process, I lost friends. I lost a family member. They rejected me. The real me. The artistic me. The spiritually grown-up me. And I discovered one must be both fierce and kind to walk the path of one’s compassionate truth.

The first inspiration to change my name came as woman in healing of my feminine self from different circumstances over the course of my life of abuse, both subtle and blatant: in the different cases being sexual, emotional, and physical. Yet, this choice to change my name was not an act of rebellion really. It was, rather, a profound reclaiming of my own authentic power. It was not a rebuke of the perpetrators, but a redefinition of myself. It was about ME.

There was more. What goes along with healing is often profound personal growth. And thus, I strongly felt the impulse to change my name to denote a significant rite of passage.

With personal growth has come a process of awakening—a renewed, fervent interest in spirituality, in science, in philosophy, in spending as much time as possible outside just observing nature. I can’t learn enough, fast enough. It’s a hunger. Interestingly, this shift circles back to the hunger I had as a child for peace, for knowledge, for understanding the deeper existential questions—before life steered me off to who I thought I should be and what I thought I should do. In healing, now I can honor who I feel I am and how I am drawn to spend my free time.

The inspirations that drew me down this “path less taken” still surface and clarify daily, weekly. I can’t capture them all in a blog. Or even in my 24-page story about changing my name. I don’t expect everyone to understand. Not when I am still making sense of the inspiration myself.

One thing I hadn’t expected is to encounter SO many souls who have walked or wish to walk a similar path. At least weekly, I meet people who have changed their names, or want to change their names. So many reasons. So many stories. So little time. But so important—stories shared so that those who might judge and invalidate us might get a glimmer of understanding.

One thing I hadn’t expected is for close friends or family to simply reject and refuse to acknowledge my wishes and my new legal name. They simply call me Kyle still. As if I am frozen in time, like dinosaur bones in a glacier.

Just this morning I had a conversation with my neighbor up the road. I have talked about my name change with her. She has my new name written down. Yet this morning I was Kyle. It took me a minute. Who? Oh, yeah. Her. I cut my neighbor some slack though. She is older and a peripheral acquaintance.

This summer I had visitors. They spent the whole three days calling me Kyle. They wouldn’t even at least try “Kylee” (my new middle name, a combo of my given name and middle name – Kyle & Lee). And they know my whole story, all the reasons. It was sort of infuriating. I communicated with them for the entire visit as if under water. Who were they talking to? Kyle was looking back to the hazy past of the person I used to be: submissive, overly eager to please, taking mean behavior by withdrawing/hiding, or acting overly nice and helpful in trying to smooth it all over. That WAS me. I forgive myself for it all—these were old coping patterns, set up as a child, when I had no other recourse.

But I do have a better way now. And a new name. My name marks empowerment. My name marks awakening. My name marks fierce kindness. My name speaks a NO to abuse of any kind. It speaks a NO to so many abuses carried out, as we speak, to individuals, to animals, to ecosystems, to systems of social injustice.

My name marks a YES to new visioning and to positive empowerment.

Delight Is Radical

Síorghlas. I love my last name. I am a woman and I chose my own last name! I don’t care that it is hard to spell. Don’t forget the special í with the accent over it! I don’t mind that everyone hesitates when pronouncing it. Síorghlas = “sheer” “lass,” I instruct. Of course that is to the best of my knowledge with my beginner’s learning of Gaelic. The “h” does funny things to nearby consonants in the middle of words. Like making them silent. I do hope to run into a Gaelic speaker someday just to be sure. And if I have it wrong, the laugh will be on me.

Why Síorghlas? Whatever does it mean? Evergreen. And this is so right, in so many ways. Firstly, one of my best friends while growing up was a tree. A big old maple right outside my bedroom window. It had a wide, low welcoming branch, perfect for a small girl to reach up, swing up her legs, and right herself on the comfortable rough bark-seat. I spent hours there, screened in leaves, quiet, unnoticed. Sometimes I brought a book.

And so I became friendly with so many trees…I study them as I walk, their leaves in summer, their shapes in winter. I listen to their voices. Shhh….wwshhhh…serrr…I like to put my hands on their old trunks and absorb their long years of contemplation, rooted in one spot, watching the zany world rushing onward. I am worried about trees too. So many bulldozers and chainsaws, and invasive insects and molds. I’d rather see trees than a parking lot any day. Chestnut blight wiped out the spreading chestnut. Dutch elm disease ravaged the elms. Now the Emerald ash borer is carving killer tunnels in our beautiful ash trees in Vermont. Carving killer tunnels in my heart.

But there is more. Síorghlas is not a random choice. It’s tied to family lineage. One side of my family has Irish bloodlines. And a rare name. Honan. This grandfather was fun, playful. He told me anything important would always happen on a Tuesday. And that all trouble was caused by a small sprite. He had an amazing collection of old coins, and he gave me several. He was a collector. And a drinker. He died when I was 9. And so, I was poking around one day and discovered that Honan is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic O’hEoghanaín, which means descendent of Eoghanàn, form of personal name Eógan, which means “born of the yew.” Or…Honan could stem from a variant of Honeen, Anglicized version of O’hUainin, a descendant of Uainin, diminutive Uaine, which means “green.” I chose my new last name to mirror the possible meanings embedded in my lineage.

You may be puzzled as to why I changed my last name. Or you might just accept it like no big deal and celebrate it with me. Or you may condemn me for it. I’ve experienced all three reactions.

In these crazy, fucked up times, money and greed and hatred are hell riders on a mad gallop through the flames of Earth’s and humanity’s destruction (the hyperbole is intentional … or maybe it’s not hyperbol.) I have been desperately searching for hope, for answers, for meaning. And so I’ve undergone a spiritual awakening of sorts…higher consciousness opening up to interconnectivity of all things—people, animals, plants, trees, oceans, rocks, wind, soil, stars, planets. All of it is a web. It is infinite – evergreen. Quiet contemplation (like the days in the old maple), interesting conversations with friends, lots of books to read, and meditation, practice of present moment awareness. That kind of awakening. It helps me tolerate the madness and to see glimmers of hope. My name change marks this. It’s a beacon.

The other reason is not so wonderful. The other grandfather, the one whose name I carried for 54 years…sadly, one of my #MeToo moments was him. It was time to doff his name. Why should I carry his name? He of the wandering hands? I was 12, maybe 13. To free myself thus has been so liberating. To free myself with the beautiful, magical Síorghlas.

Well…it’s not been so easy. One relative that I love very much no longer speaks to me. Another relative will not call me by my new name, first or last, but still reaches out, loves, and talks to me. He told me on a recent visit:

“It was when you changed your last name that really did it.” (As in pissed off the relative who isn’t speaking to me.)

I asked, “Well, but what if I, a woman, had fallen in love with a man. And married him? And took his name? Would that have been okay?”

“Of course,” this relative said.

Wow. Indeed I was married twice before. The first time I took my husband’s name. The second time I did not. The first time, no one batted an eye. Everyone kept speaking to me.

“Wait,” I said. “So…you’re telling me that it’s okay for me to take some other random man’s name, but it’s not okay to choose my own name??”

“Right.”

“And why is that?”

“Lineage.”

“Lineage? You mean to memorialize the grandfather who molested me? And that new husband would have nothing to do with our family’s lineage. That’s crazy dominator bullshit. My name that I chose is closer to and honors our family lineage.”

Well, we sort of ended there. At an impasse. This relative is a smart, enlightened, caring person. But his words to me smacked of Western restrictions rooted in patriarchy.

In a conversation a few weeks later he said, “Well, what would your father want?”

My father passed away ten years ago. I would hope he would want me to be happy. But that question, what would your father want, misses the point. As long as I am not doing dastardly things and hurting people, isn’t this about what I want? In this life each of us has to follow their own growth path to become their most authentic self. For it is then that they can bring authentic compassion and deeds and love into the world. Many psychology books say so…

Plus, I know my dad is fine with it. He’s been in my dreams. I’ve seen that he is content and strong and doing his own thing in the spirit realm. He doesn’t care what my last name is. He still comes around. 

What it comes down to is acceptance and choices. I have to accept all that is going on—in the world and in my family. I don’t like some of it. And I very much wish things were different. I choose to accept folks where they are at. I wish some could accept me where I am at. The troubles in the world will unfold as they may, whether I adhere to “lineage,” or act “weird” and change my name. To offset the negativity in the world, and my own despair, I choose what brings me delight. A beacon of hope. A name of kinship with trees. Delight spreads outward. Delight is radical. From inside me, it helps to change the outside, the physical realm, one smile at a time.

33

What Should They Call You?

by Elizabeth Matthews

Call me a Lucy Stoner, after the equal rights activist who kept her maiden name in 1855. When I became engaged twelve years ago, I knew two things for sure: I would not wear a veil and I would not change my name. As Claire Cain Miller and Derek Willis reported in a recent New York Times article, we Lucy Stoners are in the minority:  “Roughly 20 percent of women married in recent years have kept their names.” I was prepared for – and have encountered – much opposition for this latter choice. What has caught me off guard is the discomfort I’m faced with when fellow parents cannot figure out what to tell their children to call me.

Call me sentimental. My Armenian paternal grandfather, Lee, changed his last name from Kougasian to Matthews during a brief and ill-fated run at acting before becoming a decorated First Lieutenant during World War II. One may question why I refuse to let go of this name that does not even accurately reflect half of my heritage. But, for me, that story becomes diluted when we substitute one name for another based on my sex.

Call me a stickler. “I’m sorry. It’s confusing,” a close friend recently complained. “Are you Mrs. Severud? Mrs. Matthews? What should my kids call you?”

Though I want to answer with, “Liz. Call me Liz,” I understand that many adults feel that a lack of respect is connected to using first names. I answer, “Ms. Matthews.”

“Okay, Mrs. Mathews?”

“No, Ms. Ms. Matthews,” I enunciate the “zzzz” sound to make my point.

“Okay Miss Matthews.”

Call me a thinker. My eight-year-old daughter has never questioned the fact that I have a different last name. My five-year-old son, on the other hand, often calls me “Liz Matthews,” rather than “mom” – as if calling me out for this decision. Although he is too young to understand how this moniker could potentially be read, there is no questioning that my decision unnerves him on some level. And sometimes I wonder if these opposite reactions reflect personalities or some anachronistic gender norms.

Call me a provoker. I recently asked my daughter, “How do you feel about the fact that I have a different last name?”

She did not look up while she colored at the kitchen counter, “I don’t know. It’s kind of like you’re not part of the family.”

I took a deep breath. These are the words that a lot of women fear. I’m grateful I waited until she was old enough to begin this conversation, and that’s what I did. I began to explain my decision. She didn’t respond. She kept coloring.

Call me a historian. During my senior year of college, I began craving a stronger connection with the community I had lived in for nearly four years. I became a volunteer at the Women’s Rape Crisis Center – focusing mostly on outreach and education. During my training, I learned that violence against women exists on a spectrum. If abuse and assault are on one end, language is on the other. Attitudes towards women are slowly eroded when people use disparaging language that objectifies women or glorifies men who abuse them. “Wife-beater,” for example – a term so ubiquitous, it makes me cringe each time I hear it. I see my decision of not changing my name falling along this same spectrum.  

Call me a teacher. Fifteen years ago, I taught middle and high school in Brooklyn, and at least one-third of my students’ mothers kept their names. When I asked some of these students how they felt about this, many of them were confused. Their responses were mostly unanimous and impressive.

“I guess I’ve never thought about it.”

“My mom is really independent.”

“It doesn’t bother me at all.”

“I like it.”

“My mom is very successful, so why would she change her name?”

For a creative writing assignment, one of these students wrote a poem about walking to the bus with his mom each morning. This was their time together, he explained, to talk, to catch up, without the other siblings around. His mother was a very busy casting agent, and it was clear that he relished this time alone time with her. No mention of names. No mention of feeling distant from his mother – the woman who birthed him – for having a different last name.

Call me a nasty woman. Armed with this knowledge, I became more confident with my decision, but this doesn’t stop me from being somewhat disappointed with my generation. I personally know very few people who have decided to keep their name. Now, as we witness the perforation of the ultimate glass ceiling, I hope that it will become harder to justify why a woman would not keep her name. Lucy Stone did it over one hundred sixty years ago – nearly sixty years before the 19th amendment was passed. At this moment in time, things feel more charged.

Call me Ms., please. And while I have your attention, do you mind if my children call you Ms. rather than Mrs.?

 

What Shall We Name This Year?

Shall we name it the year of

… acrobatic swan dives into bliss?

… slime mold oozing in its miraculous way?

… coriander cakes?

… deep breaths?

… articulating the language of ancient trees?

… love over licentious lyres?

… a bread basket big enough?

… rattling cages and tearing down walls?

… the birds and the bees and the bears?

… dancing, just because?

… the circus packing up and leaving town?

… embracing bravery like an adolescent crush?

… remembering that whales have beautiful songs?

… yellow roses?

… linked hands?

… grounding?

 

old tree

Photo by Amabel Síorghlas

 

Dare to Name Thyself Witch

Today is a day, on Halloween, when it is safe to publicly name myself: “Witch.”

Sort of …

In this country, America, which supposedly has religious freedom as one of its foundational tenets—a nation that has existed for over 200 years paying lip service to this holiest of freedoms—how free are we, really, to name ourselves in our faiths?

Many people in America and around the globe still don’t understand the religion of Wicca, or the somewhat related and ancient Druid faith, or other earth-based spiritual practices. Yet there are witches and druids all over the world. Witch is “Bruja” in Spanish. And other languages also have their name for those humans who worship the seasons, the elements of the natural world (earth, air, fire, water), animal spirits, and the cycles of light. Wiccans believe that universal divine energy also has strong female elements. “God” is not just a “He,” but a “She.” Or a he/she/they/it. The “She” aspect of “God” has been lost for far too long. Lost? No, intentionally, historically stamped out. Murdered.

Many folks have been suckered in by the ongoing narrative of the green-faced hag with the long nose, the warty chin, and the pointy hat, the evil “crone” who does terrible things to children in the woods. The story goes that witches can spoil the milk or turn men into toads. [If only. Just kidding. Sort of.]

In reality, many men are Wiccan as well.

No we don’t cast evil spells on others. No, we don’t worship the devil. We don’t even believe in the devil, for goodness sake!

The basic creed of Wiccans is “Harm none.” This is an extremely difficult creed in practice that takes incredible compassion, creative problem solving, and much thought. We celebrate the turnings of the year: light to dark, dark to light. Death to rebirth. Planting to harvest. Fertility. Wisdom. Beauty. Kindness. Love.

Normally in daily life I never call myself “Witch” or talk about my Wiccan beliefs, which, truthfully, are supplemented by a blend of ideas from Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American spirituality, and even some aspects of Christianity. I don’t name myself because I am all too aware that in the not-so-distant past, witches were burned at the stake.

Except on Halloween, I don’t name myself “Witch” because it appears frighteningly obvious that it is not safe to do so in the current climate in the United States and many countries throughout the world where, due to ideologies of what is “right” or “profitable,” anyone who is “other” may be attacked, ridiculed, subjected to death threats, locked up, driven out, murdered, or bombed.

I don’t name myself “Witch” because I witness, daily, how various religions are persecuted right here on our supposedly “safe” American soil—eleven people of the Jewish faith were just shot in a temple last week. Horrifying. People of the Muslim faith are “named,” unfairly and inaccurately, things like “terrorist.” They are subjected to scrutiny while traveling or just eating in a restaurant, and many have to endure the infamous and unconstitutional travel “ban.” Christians also endure unkind pigeonholing despite the fact that there are a myriad of orientations within the Christian faith, and wide ranging morals and ethics that follow.

In our country of “religious freedom,” Native Americans, many of whom follow earth-based practices, must constantly fight for even basic spiritual rights connected with their land … still, two centuries after America was “founded,” or let’s call it colonialism, a conquest … um, let’s name it: genocide. Most Native American spiritualities share my Wiccan faith’s utter respect for nature, living in understanding that we are an integral part of it. We should not be dominators of earth, beasts, plants, trees, rocks, water, and air, or each other, but rather live, as best we can, in symbiosis.

Native Americans, alongside Wiccans and other earth-based worshippers, seem to be increasingly on the front lines fighting for the environment, yet no one seems to be listening to their extremely wise and most likely life-saving words. Instead, decision after business decision is made which tramples upon their sacred places, their soil. These are places of great beauty. These places are their church. Would it stand if an oil & gas company came and said we’re going to tunnel under a beautiful old church building with a pipeline? I doubt it.

I hold my earth-based faith up in the light of this centuries-old treatment of America’s indigenous people and it gives little hope that my beliefs will be understood either. So much for respect for a people’s faith.

Persecuting and hurting people, shunning them, taking away their rights, or kicking them out simply for their faith has gone on since humans began walking the earth. But many would agree that stereotyping, badmouthing, or attacking worshippers of different religions is simply imbecilic. Yet it goes on. And on. When are we going to stop?

When are we going to take enough time to listen to, read about, and learn about each others’ religions to the degree that we no longer fear them? When will we see that ultimately all the texts and stories and idols emerge from a shared human desire to understand why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing on this planet in these short lives we live in these impermanent bodies? When will we get it that through faith we are just trying to figure out how best to love one another and the creatures and plants and hallowed ground of this earth?

It seems increasingly obvious to me that the Goddess aspect of Wicca simply must come back into our psyches to assist in healing zealous right/wrong, us/them, my faith is better than your faith dualistic thinking. The feminine in spirituality is a necessary element to help calm our increasingly crazy ball of earth spinning out of control.

Blessed be. Happy Samhain. Happy Halloween.

 

 

 

 

Nickname: the Dubious Gift that Lasts

“Hey Cushytail!” A little girl with thick brown hair and freckles hollers this across the playground.

“Mongreloid!!” I yell back, tugging at the waist of my bellbottoms, pulling them up so I won’t trip as I run.

Enemies about to start a fight? A case of bullying? Nope. We are best friends in elementary school. Cushytail is her nickname for me—my given last name was Cushman. Mongreloid is my nickname for her—her last name was Morrill. We run towards each other, laughing hysterically, then skip off to the teeter-totters together.

Until recently, I always thought of this ritual, these nicknames, as the innocent, silly wordplay of little girls, a goofy morphing of our names to signify that we were best, best buddies.

When I grew up to become a teacher, of course I always discouraged bullying and the calling of names. But I never spent a lot of time deeply thinking about how kids name each other or about these particular nicknames of my own childhood, until I chose to rename myself. At 55 years old, in the midst of a midlife rite of passage where I was growing and changing on many levels, I chose a new name for myself: first, middle, and last.

The choosing of my own name now has me paying attention to the subtleties of naming. It’s got me thinking about the power of names to shape us, as well as the power we have to shape others through the connotations of seemingly innocent signifiers.

I don’t remember when my friend and I started those two nicknames. The calling out of them never felt hurtful; we always found them incredibly funny. In fact, even as adults, she and I can sometimes break them out for a good chuckle, harking back to our childhood camaraderie.

But in looking at these two signs, really, Cushytail connotes either a big fat butt, which I have never actually had, or some sort of hairy animal appendage. Not all that flattering! Did this work on me unconsciously I wonder?

And Mongreloid! Where the heck did I get that? A mongrel is a mixed breed dog, a mutt … usually a vision of bones and mange, licking an empty tin can. It’s an outdated, inappropriate term for a mixed breed person, but I doubt that is what I meant as we didn’t have many of those in the sixties in my tiny white bread New England town. And then there is the not-so-subtle hint of “mongoloid” in there—a dated reference to a person with Down’s Syndrome, or (and I doubt I knew this at the time) a division of Asian or Arctic indigenous peoples. The connotations were not very kind. The word was insensitive to persons with disabilities and to people of another race. I’d created an equally terrible nickname for my best friend.

I’m not sure the adults in our lives ever heard the two of us say these names to each other. If they had, I am not sure they would have thought much of it, and maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe not. But it’s certainly food for thought.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I argue that this old adage is a colossal lie. This line is handed out to kids as a way to “protect” from nicknames. But repeating this line in the face of a taunt or even a well-meant endearment likely does nothing to deflate what actually goes on internally—emotionally, unconsciously.

When we are named, when we hear ourselves called a word or phrase, our brain automatically takes in the words and processes meaning—denotations and connotations—and then associates meaning with the self. If we are resilient, we might be able shrug this off. With higher self-esteem, we may be able to minimize the damage of a negative suggestion in a nickname. But if a child has low self-esteem, is repeatedly bullied with a nickname, or if a person with authority, such as a parent, older sibling, coach, or teacher, dishes out a nickname, that name’s underlying meaning can settle into the psyche and work on that person for years.

Children and adults alike are frequently renamed via nicknames for any number of reasons: shortening a name that is too hard to say, a term of endearment, to capture a physical or personality trait, to tease, to highlight a talent or skill, to remind of a foolish mistake made … the list goes on, and not all the reasons are bad. We like to think that the spirit in which a nickname comes about can mean that it is not damaging: it’s just in fun. Or, it means I love you. But do we really think about the words themselves? About the power of words to signify a range of associations? I would say, based on my experience with my friend, that many of us don’t. Maybe we should.

 

 

 

 

New Name

by Amabel Kylee Síorghlas

This pulling apart at the elemental level. Terrifyingly beautiful. I can be, now, a nebula, an interstellar cloud of dust, a veil swirling in random patterns against the backdrop of deep space. I can be a supernova, or as invisible as dark matter. It’s my choice. My middle name may be Kylee, or is it Aurora? Someday I will become particles of solar flares. Parts of me will float past Earth in vivid pinks and fluorescent greens. Síorghlasevergreen. Below, some children have flopped on a plaid blanket in a hayfield in summertime under the huge black cape of night sky. As I dance over them, they laugh because they are happy to be up way past bedtime.