What does your name mean?

I saw this story a while ago about a renaming ceremony. Girls in India had been given names clearly indicating their (lack of) value in their family/community. In a country devastated by poverty and within a culture that burdens families with daughters financially, baby girls had been given names meaning “unwanted”. The girls were involved in a program trying to re-educate them (and their communities) that all children are valued and worthy. And so the girls got dressed up, picked a new name and went to school the next day holding their head up higher than the day before.

I found this very moving. I thought about what it would be like to be called “unwanted” every day. Each time you were needed by your mother, each time you raised your hand in class (assuming you’d even do so). My name means something close to “darling”. As I named my children, book characters and even my pets- I have considered the meaning or significance of the name. My daughter’s name means “noble strength”. My youngest son’s name means “great”.

But I also thought about other names/labels we are given (or give ourselves). I was told for years I was clumsy. I learned a few years ago that is not true. I’m strong and pretty athletic. Why did I get hurt as a kid? Because I was always DOING something. I played. Hard. I was climbing trees, skating, riding bikes. I had skinned up knees because I was THAT kind of a girl. I was also told things that I couldn’t do or shouldn’t do or be or think or try or love or hate. Gotta’ be careful with that stuff. One of my sociology teachers said that labels are good to help a society be organized and sort out the chaos. But when we use those labels to limit and restrict human freedoms is where we run into trouble. Exactly.

And this applies to how we label ourselves. The names we give ourselves. I think about these little girls in India.  Unwanted. But call them that now? And they won’t even answer you.

I’m thinking about some of the “names” I’ve been answering to. I may have to have a renaming ceremony. I’ll put a bow in my hair and a fancy dress on and pick some new names for myself. And there will be dessert. I don’t know if they had dessert in India, but no ceremony I’m a part of organizing will be without dessert.