Posted by: Noni | July 19, 2020

A Rose by any other name

Over the years I’ve had different names, labels and titles given to me. 

Willam Shakespeare

When I was born, my parents selected Alison Marie Young as my name. Tragically, my father died when I was just a toddler. A few years later my mother remarried and my name became Alison Fletcher. Unfortunately that marriage ended in divorce.

Years passed again and I became Alison Richards, this name change was done officially since I was adopted by my mother and her new husband. A mere four years later, I got married and took the last name of my husband, Grootendorst.

After failing to make a doomed union succeed I got divorced and I reclaimed the name Richards.  I lived with my next partner for nearly ten years. I could have taken the name Donovan but since I’d had so many different identities already changing again didn’t make sense. 

Ancestral heritage is reflected in our names. Titles are given to us at birth or acquired through marriage but do they say who we are? More accurately they indicate who our ancestors were or who our spouse is. 

But does that name belong to us? I’ve recently questioned my identity, my name, because when I came to publish this series I didn’t know what name to use. None seem to belong to the person who I am today.

The only name I’ve given myself is Noni and that’s because I was very young, still in my thirties, when I became a grandmother. I didn’t want to be called Grandma or Granny or Nana because they sounded incredibly old. I didn’t see myself as haggard and grey so I searched online for alternative names for grandmother. 

I came up with Noni, which is a variation of the Italian Nona.  It’s the only name I’ve e ver given myself and the one I feel the most comfortable with, the one that fits me the best.

Throughout our lives we collect nicknames or titles like; sweetheart, pumpkin, doctor, lawyer, your honor, punk, teacher, waitress, officer… but really, is that who you are? Or is that title that someone’s appointed you? Did it come from years of study or decades of friendship?

Our identity is a personal thing and it’s the same thing with language. At birth we’re given the language of our parents. If you live in China and your parents speak German you’re probably not going to speak Chinese as your 1st language. You’ll likely learn German first.

Maybe you’ll pick up Chinese at school or off TV but each of us are given a specific set of communication tools, our mother tongue, when we’re young and they contribute to making us who we are. Our language becomes part of our identity just as a name does.

The first language we learn, we learn intuitively. We learned by mocking, mimicking and copying. We just pick it up. Children learn languages naturally. There are an unlimited number of languages that a child can learn to speak.

With the language we speak from birth, (because we absorb it naturally) history, origin and culture doesn’t influence our learning it. The logistics behind the language are assumed.

When we study the way we communicate (mostly non verbal) we can appreciate the importance not only selecting exact and specific wording but delivering it with tone and physical emphasis.

Through our experiences, words can take on new meaning. We attach memories and import to words. With lyrics or prose we can be emotionally moved from words. We adopt favorite expressions. Some words have more meaning for us than others.

This is true also with names.

For me, my name just doesn’t fit. because it’s not my name it’s a name that was given to me. So in the end I decided to start using the name Alison Noni and I answer to both.  For some reason Noni is the name I feel most comfortable with. Maybe we should have a tradition where on their 13th birthday everybody picks their own name. That makes absolute sense to me. 

I remember when I was a kid and hanging out with my gang of girls. We would be playing house, or school or store and we’d all change names.  Everybody would have a different name. Heather would use the name Beth and Anne would use the name Margaret. It’s strange how we always want to have something different than what we have. Maybe that’s because the name that’s been given us doesn’t necessarily suit us, or fit us.

Perhaps our name was passed down from one of our grandmothers, or from our aunt? It may have suited them; it belonged to them, but it doesn’t necessary belong to us. 

It’s really interesting how these labels that we put on people also affect our perception. When I was selecting names for my children, leafing through a book I’d come across a name and think, Ugh!! I can’t use that name, that person was horrible!

A name can become favorable or distasteful based on our past experiences with someone of that calling. Like the flip side, [she] was so sweet, that would be an ideal name for my daughter….  

Entire families have been split by agreement over a name. It’s subjective, like art, either you like a name or not. I find that most often our opinion is based on identifying with our past experiences. I had a friend called Napoleon and I wondered why his parents would give him a name associated with a negative complex for short people. Funny thing is, he was short! 

Some names take on a bigger context through their historical importance. When we hear names like William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great, Benedict Arnold and Julius Cesar we think about their character and deeds. 

In the end I picked names that I thought had a nice sound. I had a challenge finding ones that went well with the last name. Also important are the initials. I love that my initials from birth are a name in and of themselves, A.M.Y. (Amy).

I attempted to pick names for my children that had tradition behind them. The concept of naming rituals in indigenous cultures appeals to me. Some name their children after elements in nature.  It makes sense since you’re connected to that moment in time, like with the name Running Bear or Rising Sun. Much like the moment of your birth is documentation of that time in history.

When you go through a search for names many details can affect your selection. The choice of spelling can affect an outcome in numerology. Mixing two names together can create a tongue twister or give secondary meaning. Imagine poor young Richard Head when a local bully insists on calling him Dick. 

The naming traditional has been going on since beginning of mankind. We need to call each other something, “Hey you” doesn’t work with 30 kids in a classroom. I understand names are a necessary way of identifying ourselves. When you refer to somebody in a conversation you say, “The other day I saw Jack.” or “Last week I went shopping with Mary” so people know who you’re talking about. If you say, “I saw that guy the other day” it’s less specific.  

I understand the purpose of the names, I understand why we use the names but the way we get them seems to be quite archaic.  I find it odd that they’re given to us instead of us selecting our own. I think a name should self appointed the same way, when we get to a certain age, we start picking our own clothes, choosing our own style and deciding how we want to wear our hair. 

We go through an early period where our parents are molding and shaping us. Then in our teens we begin becoming our own person. I think a coming of age ceremony should also include a naming ceremony where we choose a name for ourselves.

Many ancient cultures had traditions where young men go into solitary for rites of passage to manhood. They embark on a quest to find themselves. After 10 days of fasting in the desert or a month alone in the jungle to prove independence they return with a new identity. Whatever they’ve chosen for themselves is anchored to their experience with reality in the present not someone else’s hope for what they may become. 

No matter what our name is, some will like it and others will scoff at it.  I don’t think we should be worried what popularity the name affords as long as we’re happy with it. 

I’ve always liked the name Alison and was happy that my parents selected a name that couldn’t be turned into a bad joke or misrepresent me through association with someone else. Growing up, I didn’t know any other Alison to compare myself to so it never took on a tainted nature. 

After having so many different last names, a time came in my life where I decided that they were meaningless. Some may argue that our surname or family name is more important than our first but family bloodlines aside; it’s who we are inside that matters most.

As Shakespeare once wrote:

What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose,
by any other name would smell as sweet.

A name is what you make of it, it doesn’t make you.

~ Noni


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