Wednesday, April 14

"...your first naming, your first name,/ your first word."

The title of this post is from my favorite Margaret Atwood Poem, Spelling. The basis for our communication with others (for better or worse) is the words we first learn to use- and what word do we learn first? Our names. The first word we respond to is our name. We quickly learn to recognize that word as our identifier, if not our very identity.

And that makes our relationship with our names one of the most crucial relationships of our lives.

I can personally vouch for the power a name can hold for a person. My relationship with my name has been a kind of on-again/off-again, high school romance type of relationship. One minute I love it, and the next I'm not sure what I ever saw in it. For the most part it isn't that unique, except that it is.

In Margaret Atwood's poem she says, "A word after a word/ after a word is power." She is right. And the beginning of power is to know- really know- your own name.

My name is spelled... differently. My father used the Greek spelling for the word "joy," so it's spelled with a silent "H" which leads most people to mispronounce it. It's kind of a big deal because the sound of it is significantly different than if you use the soft "ch" sound (as in character, or charismatic).

I had a coach in middle school who called me Charlotte because (as she told my mother at a parent-teacher night) she just liked it better. She was just plain strange, so I didn't sweat her opinion too much, but as the years went by, I got pretty tired of having to correct every new person I met on the pronunciation of my name. Sometimes multiple times before they caught on.

I think the biggest offender was my Spanish teacher my junior year of high school. Mr. Hammond was a coach of some kind, and as strange as the previous coach I mentioned, except that he refused to pronounce my name correctly. I corrected him every day for months, but he refused. It got to the point that I felt that it was just a matter of disrespect that he persisted. I spoke to him several times about it, but he ignored me.

I was once walking down a flight of stairs behind him in a deserted stairwell and the though actually crossed my mind that I could easily shove him down the stairs and no one would know. He probably wouldn't even see me. Also, it was a side stairwell that wasn't often used and he might lay there unassisted for quite some time before he was found and helped.

Ultimately, the realization that I would actually consider such a thing really disturbed me (as it probably should have) and I simply gave up on him and the class. I passed Spanish, but without any enthusiasm. I can still only a handful of spanish words, and they would do me little practical good unless I was desperately in need of some peanuts.

For the most part, however, I came to terms with my name a while back. I was asked, recently, how I would planned on explaining to my kids about how I picked their names. I haven't though too much about this, but the best answer I could give was that I really understood the meaning behind my name at a time when I really needed to know it. It was a time when I was honestly at the lowest point of my life that my mother made it clear that they chose my name for a reason. They wanted me to be joyful- to know joy and be characterized by it (pun intended).

It's still a little annoying, but I persist in letting the people around me know what my name is and how to pronounce it. Usually I will tell them that it means "joy" with the hope that they will remember that it is meant to be a little different, but there is a purpose behind it.


Anonymous said...

Chara- I really enjoyed reading this & learning your thinking. It is important no matter what anyone says in treating your name or mine, like it doesn't matter. I've
been told I look like a Connie, so I have been called Connie by a few folks who don't know me at all. As
I look back on your teachers lack
of respect to you, I'm offended.
Thanks for posting this. Really.
As you know I have my own set of
problems with spelling my name. I
changed it but not legally. There must be something going on inside my brain regarding this, I'm sure.
Nana Carole

Emily said...

I hated my middle name (Rae) growing up. It was my grandma's middle name. Now, I love it because it connects me to her. (Her name is Carole - with an e - too!)

Cason comes from a long line of C names. And Eugene as the middle name. Even if he hates when he's growing up, I hope one day it makes him feel connected to the men that came before him that had that as their middle names.

Kendall's name was harder. Colin knew for years if he had a daughter, he wanted to name her Kendall. And I chose Avery as her middle name. Both sides of our family were semi-horrified that she would have NO family names. But I don't regret it at all. It's her own name that belongs to her only. Which, as you know, fits her personality quite well.

Long comment! Sorry! Great post!

Mindy said...

Man, choosing a name for your child is tough. Just look at all the implications throughout their lives...

I can't wait to hear how you came up with both of your children's names. :)