In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing….
I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.
– Sandra Cisneros, “My Name” (The House on Mango Street)
I have — and have had — about a million nicknames my whole life, thanks to my family, friends, loved ones, students, etc. And I once made the mistake of telling a former class that I personally bestow nicknames on people or things I really love… and then the kids who didn’t have nicknames from me felt slighted. Eeks. I can’t help it, though, because to name someone myself is to claim them and make them special to only me. If other people should pick up on the nickname I created, so be it, but in my heart I always know that I gave them my own baptism of sorts. For example, our Basset Hound’s full name is Prince William Sound. In his short three and a half years of life, he goes by any of these names on any given day: Sounder, Sounder Puppy, Sounder the Wonder Pup, Pup-pup, Puppy Soup, Bobacita, Hound Dog, Sounder Hounder, so on and so forth. All terms of endearment and love.
Before getting married two years ago, I was very certain of the identity of the person who owned my maiden name. Very very certain. I had 28 years, in fact, to cultivate that woman’s identity. That woman had a name that family/friends/colleagues and I all knew and recognized in a particular way as a person and a student and an athlete and a teacher and music-lover. So when I got married, I was terribly bothered by the annoyance of going to the Social Security office and the DMV and pushing papers around to legalize my married name. Yes, that is a valid excuse for delaying the process (men have it so easy!), but in looking back on it, I really didn’t want to be “re-baptized.” I liked me as me, and much as I love and adore my husband and feel utterly committed to him and our life together, I wasn’t quite ready to be me with a new last name.
When we moved to Alaska at the end of last June, I had made it through exactly five days before I had a meltdown. Amidst my tears, I said to my husband, “I have no sense of who I am here.” And I didn’t, because my heart and head were still in California while my body was in Alaska. I couldn’t compute that I had a new name with a new home; it was so overwhelming, and I felt like an adult newborn.
Six months later, I am still getting to know me by my new name in my new home. While I am the same at my core, my Alaska friends and acquaintances only know me by this new name. I have to remember that when I meet people. They don’t know that I’m from Cincinnati or that I love volleyball. That I played piano in my high school orchestra for four years and sang in an a cappella group in college. They don’t know that being a Stanford student changed my life forever and how much I love the physical place and its community. Or the story of how I met Husband. Or who are the greatest, most important people in my life. Having a new name is like adding another onion layer to my identity, but every day I know myself as this person a little bit better. Not sure if I’m growing into the name or if the name is shaping me — some of both, most likely. Hopefully one day my name will be Mom (and eventually some form of Grandma one day, too), and that person will probably miss this woman I am today, even as she is baptized yet again.