It is a beautiful thing when your work is appreciated by another and touched them in such a personal way.
The apprenticeship program with elephant journal is over and although we still keep in touch through Facebook, it is nice to continue to read great things posted about my fellow authors. Cat Beekman is one of the editors for elephant journal and she reads hundreds, maybe even thousands of articles a month both professionally and personally. Each month she lists out her favorites for that given month and I am honored to find my name and a fellow apprentice and now columnist at elephant journal Neelam Tewar, as well as my former teaching assistant, editor and columnist Nicole Cameron on Cat’s Favorite Articles – December’s list.
The article Cat chose and written by me is titled, “What’s in a Name & Why I Decided to Change Mine.”
How many of us move through life feeling disconnected to the very name given to us at birth? Are we dishonoring our parents by wanting to go by another name? Many choose to use their middle name or even a nickname given to them. Many hate their name, but live with it for the sake of not hurting anyone else. Where do you fit on this spectrum of loyalty to your family and yourself?
This is how the story began and after a few edits and suggestions, you will find the published piece linked at the bottom of this article.
It’s Only a Name.
For 54 years I’ve had a variety of names, but they all began with Wanda. I was born Wanda Lee (and a last name). Most of those years I felt disconnected from my first name and wanted to change it.
What came to mind when I thought of those named the same, I visualized an African American woman in the 1950’s cooking up a huge meal. There are a half dozen kids running in and out of the kitchen, getting underfoot and she shoos them out the door with a, “Git on outta here till supper is done,” kinda look.
While it provides a unique visual, it’s an impression that is nothing like me.
I was one who roamed, who cared for my family but felt alone within it.
So what’s in a name?
Our name is an identifier of our personality, our uniqueness, what makes us who we are. But our name was given to us by someone else, generally our parents. Many have been named after family members, for religious reasons or because it just sounded cute. I was curious and asked my mother one day where she came up with the name Wanda. She confessed there was no real reason other than it sounded good to her.
I wished there had been a little more forethought and caring on my parents’ part, like some who looked at baby books for months and those who go a step further to research the meaning behind the name.
To me, my name echoed the story of past wounds. I spent a lifetime thinking about my name. I hem hawed around for years claiming I was going to change it.
At fifty four years old, I did and legally dropped my first name. I became Lee and I felt free.
According to the dictionary, Wanda refers to the wanderer, one who desires love and companionship. A wanderer works with others to achieve balance and peace. Many times mentioned as an introvert. While these traits did absolutely describe me to a tee, I didn’t feel like a Wanda. I felt like a Lee.
Lee was my maternal grandfather of whom I never met. He passed long before I was born. Our family didn’t talk much, and the only thing my mother told me was that he lost an arm in a saw mill accident.
Lee means healer and one who has a deep desire to use their abilities to help others and is personally independent. They value truth, justice and are very practical. These qualities also describe me to a tee. However, I did a little research of my own and found my grandfather was a dedicated family man. My grandmother died giving birth to their thirteenth child and he spent his years taking care of the family and working until the accident occurred. There was my connection.
Does your name suit you? What happens when you feel disconnected to your birth name?
I asked a few people if they felt like their name was a good fit and the gist of what they had to say was some felt they never connected but just lived with it. Many knew the reasons behind why they were named as such and were happy with it, while others didn’t care one way or another.
After the long process of legally dropping my first name, I had to announce the change. Some didn’t care, others asked why and a few commanded that they would only address me as Wanda. It’s been a year and sometimes I feel like that guy formally known as Prince. I am at peace and still have to tell the story at times.
Often I found through discussions of my name change, when asked many said they would stick with their given name for the sake of simplicity and/or a lack of finding a name befitting their personality and soul. My namesake didn’t resonate with me from as early as I could remember. It was a major undertaking and not something one should take lightly.
If you feel this speaks to you, but you don’t want to make a permanent change, here are a few ideas that others have tried.
Changing the spelling of one’s name is fairly easy, for example, from Lee to Leigh was an option for one girl.
Pronouncing your name differently, for example, from David to Da veed or Karin to Ka rin.
Adding humor to how you perceive your name. When the movie Fried Green Tomatoes came out, every time a person saw me they would yell, “Towanda.” Far better than the movie A Fish named Wanda.
Researching your name is a great way to see some of the qualities you hadn’t realized in yourself.
Changing my name wasn’t about running away from my former life. It’s about running towards what my life is today, in the present. It’s about adding a new dimension to an already wonderful life. It’s about becoming more of myself, feeling the connection and it’s about truism.
After a bit of editing to polish up the story, the name was changed to What’s In a Name & Why I Decided to Change Mine and is published on the elephant journal website.