What’s in a Name? 

I’ve been working on the cover art for the poetry book. I’m so excited about this project. My poor roommates are probably sick of hearing about it, and sick of seeing me sitting like a permanent lump the couch for the last two weeks, with laptop surgically attached.  The end of the week, guys, the end of the week…

But today as I was designing the cover, I came to a very important step. My name. It was a very important element in to process, and somehow, as I typed it, I felt a little intimidated. And a bit narcissistic. There it was…my name, in black and white against the page. My name,  the only thing that really ever defines me in life, and I was sending it out into the world.

Of course, I’ve had things published before, and I have always loved seeing my name in print. I had a journalism teacher that told us, “You never get over it, seeing your name in print. You think you would after years of writing, but you don’t.” So far in my life, that’s been the truth. But here on this book-cover-to-be, suddenly I felt protective of my name. 

My niece is almost two and she is learning her name. Her name is Selah, but we call her SaySay. One day, after months of being away, I was home for a short bit. I called her name from across the room. She stopped, turned to me, and her full face lit up. ” I SaySay,” she proudly informed me. My heart melted. It was a beautiful understanding. Even at such a young age, she understood that her essence was tied to this one word. Name. What a power it has. 

Jennifer Knapp was a fairly big Christian rock star in the 1990s. She recently wrote a book about her experiences in the Christian music scene and her decision to walk away from it. It’s an interesting book. But, at one point, she describes this battle to get away from her own career. But she couldn’t. Everywhere she went, and I mean everywhere, she literally traveled the world to get away from herself, there would be people that would recognize her name. There it was–an image she was now embarrassed of, tied to something so integral. She tried to change it, and played with different ideas, but in the end she said, “It was my name. The name my mother gave to me. I couldn’t change it.” Our names. So important.  

The classic Arthur Miller play, The Crucible, is about the Salem witch trials. As the story goes, the main character, John Proctor is basically forced into falsely admitting to be a witch. This had to do with an illicit moment with the ex-maid, who in the movie was played by a very well cast Winona Ryder. John Proctor could, however, save both him and his wife, by signing a document admitting to adultery. (An actual crime in 18th century Colonial America. Admitting to being a “lecher,” was about the modern equivalent of admitting to being a pedophile). John takes the deal, and in tears, he signs it, and throws it back to the judge. “Now,” the judge says, “This will be posted on the city square for all to see.” 

This is too much for John, who weeps and in rage delivers one of the play’s pivotal lines, “My name. My name. You have my soul. But leave me my name.”

And as the judge refuses to budge, John shreds the document and walks confidently toward the noose. There is no Hollywood last second resolution, he dies in honor, falsely accused, with his wife, and the credits roll. 

Our names. They are so powerful that we die for them. It’s  interesting that such powerful associations can come from a word. 


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