“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Names, who makes them up, I’d like to know?
Those botanical names that sound like diseases from another universe and just roll off the tongue of the Very Smart Gardening Guru.
My favorite flower is officially named H e l I a n t h u s but to me, I am happy to call it a Sunflower.
Baby names are the one thing that I struggled over when the happy news that a new member of the family was due. Baby name books were desperately studied. What was the origin of the name? What would the initials spell? What was the history of that name in the family? Would it flow into the surname?
The great anguish of choosing a name and then making sure the meaning of the name was one that would reflect the character that I hoped my baby would grow into. Names are really personal and a gift of love that one carries all of one’s life – especially the first or given name.
The angel Gabriel made a special visit to an expectant mum and even told her the name she should call her Baby! That’s how important names are.
But I have a big problem.
One of my daughters has dumped her name for one that a relative stranger has given her.
I don’t want to offend any person’s faith or religion, but I can’t tell this story without being completely honest. I tried to tip toe around it, but it fell flat.
This baby was very special. I had just left her father, and I was six months pregnant with her. I was terrified about bringing a baby into the world without its father, but we might have been dead if we had stayed with him. He was a wonderful man sober, but the complete opposite when he drank. We had escaped being shot when he threw the shotgun on the ground and the butt broke. I decided I would rather bring my children up as a single mum than have them grow up with fear and uncertainty.
So my four-year-old son and two-year old daughter and cat and budgie and I drove six days north to sunny Queensland and started a new life. My precious little baby girl was born and was a real treasure. She was calm and happy and slept and drank perfectly. I named her Erin Jade, because she really was a beautiful gem and an oasis in the middle of a turbulent sea.
The naming of Erin was really important to me. She saved my sanity after going through the divorce and was my calm oasis in the storm.
She grew up and married an old school friend. They didn’t have the wedding of her dreams, but it was still lovely. Before too long they had two children, and her husband (Luke) jumped into all sorts of different jobs. Shearing sheep, motor mechanics, computer programming, gardening, web page making and I am sure there have been a few more. None of the jobs lasted long. He seemed to be searching for the elusive “something”.
Then, out of the blue, Luke discovered the Greek Orthodox Church.
Erin has supported every single thing he wanted to do, and this was no different.
I went to a service where she “helped” me to pull on a funny-looking skirt over my jeans before entering the Monastery. I felt as if I were stepping back into the Dark Ages. Voices swirled around me from behind black lacy veils. I like songs, but this was all in Latin and I couldn’t understand a thing. I could not believe it was November 2015.
I could not believe that the daughter I had brought up with the teachings of equality of men and women, and the oneness of all religions and all peoples (the Baha’i Faith), was kissing pictures of saints and a priest’s hand.
We were invited via Facebook to their baptism and (second) wedding, to be held in two weeks.
It took me a few days of utter emotional confusion, until I was able to reply. I offered to help with her wedding clothes. She told me that the Godparents were getting them. Godparents? So now I was not good enough to be the Godmother of my own grandchildren? It took another few days until my thoughts were untangled enough to reply.
There was a war raging in my head and my heart. I wanted to support her choices; after all, she now believed in God, so it’s not like she was doing drugs or anything.
Her four siblings would not or could not go, so I went alone, and sat by myself on a fancy carved wooden pew right up front in an opulent church. It was full of people who were here to celebrate the baptism and marriage of my daughter, whom they had only known for four months. I had known her for 30 years, and I felt sad.
Two long hours later, the baptism was over, and the wedding was over, and then the priest was wishing their union to be blessed with children (er…couldn’t he see the two beautiful children holding candles in front of him?) And then the bombshell dropped, when this man in a long black dress pronounced that now she would be called by a name I had never heard of, let alone could pronounce! Her husband was given a new name, and so were my two little grandchildren. They were presented with a framed picture of the saint they were each named after.
It took a few long seconds for it to sink in. New names? What? So the name I had carefully chosen for her, that meant a precious gem (and she is) was no longer good enough? I can’t tell you how deeply hurt I felt.
I know it is just a name, a few letters strung together, but to just break it and let it roll away like a broken string of pearls? I went home that night and cried myself to sleep. Not since my husband had died 19 years earlier, at 45 years of age from Motor Neurone Disease, had I cried so deeply.
It felt like my heart was broken.
But it was just a name! Wasn’t it?
Why is a name so powerful that its loss can tear apart your heart?
I learned the power of a name and the depth of love in choosing and giving one to a baby, and I learned the pain and grief when it is torn away.
Maybe I am overly soft in the head about all this, but it still hurt and I couldn’t bring myself to call her by that very different name, so I would say “Lovely” or “Precious.”
When I was very courageous, I would call her by the beautiful name I chose for her, but it caught in my throat on the way out.
After a few weeks the heartbreak settled down into a dull ache, but it still didn’t feel right.
I needed to repair this. She was my precious daughter who was drifting away from me.
We made a date to catch up. The kids were at school and the husband was in another new job, so I invited her to come to IKEA and I would buy her lunch.
In the aisle between the doonas and curtains, something magical happened.
We stopped walking and I held her arm and told her why I chose her beautiful name as a baby and how much of a saviour she was at the time just after I had left her dad, and how broken-hearted I felt when she discarded it for a name that a relative stranger had chosen for her.
She listened. We both had tears in our eyes and I felt the heavy cloak of sadness lift as she smiled and told me that it was OK, and that I could call her “Erin,” and she would use her new name with the church people.
A week later she sent a text message. “Mum, I have changed my mind. I want you to call us by our ‘God given’ names” (I could have sworn the priest was a man in long black robes) and that they were changing them legally.
This was just too much! I couldn’t reply.
More soul searching and finally I decided that it was my ego that would not accept her new choice. I felt my lesson was to learn detachment and that if you called a sunflower a thorn, it would still be a sunflower. So I let go. She was so much more than just a name. It would sound weird to call her Ekaterina, but I was prepared to try.
Then she wanted to visit me. Great! I can tell her face to face that I love her more than just a name, and I will try to use her new one.
She knocked on the door. She didn’t come in when invited. She wanted to hug me before she came inside, and tell me that she loved me so much and that she had realised how selfish she had been in making me call her this name. She said she had been swept away in the excitement of it all and hadn’t considered how much it must have hurt me. She said I could call her Erin.
Through a veil of relief and tears, I asked her to put it in writing as I could not go through this again.
It was only a name, but what a powerful effect it had on me. Our relationship has healed and so has my heart.
Long live our own names.
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