Category Archives: Naming

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.

Dickens on Pip as a Name

For a lover of classic novels, I remained woefully under-Dickensed all my life, having slogged painstakingly through A Tale of Two Cities in 7th grade. The discomfort of its sophisticated density – for a girl my age – prevented the future urge to return to Dickens ever again, until now. (Although, I did relish periodic viewings of A Christmas Carol and it’s comedic counterparts… Bill Murray’s Scrooged, “An Extra Christmas Carol” from the 2018 season of Saturday Night Live, etc.)

Recently, a friend recommended her favorite book to me: Great Expectations. She brought me her tattered copy of it while I peddled goods at my chocolate shop the next day, and I tucked it in my backpack for a trip to Austin, Texas. It made my trip; a fantastic tale to traverse during those moments and hours between departures, arrivals, connections and escapes. I resonated with Great Expectations’ fundamental theme of wealth inequality, which is a philosophical centerpiece of modern existence some 200 years later, unfortunately, as well.

We get to know a blacksmith named Pip who’s about to be mysteriously propped up as a gentlemen, essentially lifted from the impoverished class to the wealthy one. Upon his journey, he is paired up with a friendly chap, “Mr. Pocket,” who reconsiders Pip’s name. In the spirit of our anthology in the works, A Tiny Death: Stories of Identity and Transformation Through Chosen Names, I am giddy to share this Pip passage with you below. Continually, as Amabel and I traverse the sociology and history of chosen names in service to this anthology, I encounter these kinds of passages in both literature and life, about changing and attributing meaning to a name:

“I dare say we shall be often together, and I should like to banish any needless restraint between us. Will you do me the favour to begin at once to call me by my Christian name, Herbert?”

I thanked him, and said I would. I informed him in exchange that my Christian name was Philip.

“I don’t take to Philip,” said he, smiling, “for it sounds like a moral boy out of the spelling-book, who was so lazy that he fell into a pond, or so fat that he couldn’t see out of his eyes, or so avaricious that he locked up his cake till the mice ate it, or so determined to go a bird’s-nesting that he got himself eaten by bears who lived handy in the neighbourhood. I tell you what I should like. We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith—would you mind it?”

“I shouldn’t mind anything that you propose,” I answered, “but I don’t understand you.”

“Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece of music by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith.”

“I should like it very much.”

“Then, my dear Handel,” said he, turning round as the door opened, “here is the dinner, and I must beg of you to take the top of the table, because the dinner is of your providing.”

 

 

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.