24Feb

Becoming My Name

Let me tell you about my friend Erika, the Life Artist. She applies soul to life the way Pollock applied paint to canvas, and the resulting swirls of color and energy keep me glued to my front-row seat. The way this lady loves her husband and her little punks and her city and her God is like nothing I’ve seen before. Her stories are a mix of the gritty and the gorgeous, and each one leaves me looking at life with new intention. (I don’t think you could look at a Jesus-following reality the same way after reading her tale of Plus One.) I am flat-out honored to be posting at her place today—a story of names and close encounters of the spiritual kind—and would love it if you followed me there to soak in a little life art for your Monday.

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Out of all the insults leveled at me as a child, my name was the hardest to bear.

Bethany.

In its syllables, all the other taunts—“goody two-shoes,” “cover-up chicken,” “freak”—condensed into a three-pronged weapon that I sharpened with my own arsenal of self-loathing. I didn’t meet another Bethany until my teens, so for years, I imagined myself the sole embodiment of the name. I was told it meant “house of God.” I knew better though.

Bethany meant little girl, over-young, embarrassingly naïve. It meant one deserving of abuse. It meant unworthy, unlovable, the lowest common denominator in all of God’s harsh kingdom. It mocked me with an air of churchy pomp that was neither warranted nor wanted. When I heard my name spoken, no matter the context, I cringed. It felt like a prison sentence, this identity printed as bold bureaucratic fact on my birth certificate.

My middle name was even worse, a Christian buzzword that sounded oversized and ironic coming from my lips. I had been told what it meant too, and the theological implications spoke of a God who saw the worst in me, who obligated me to eternal servitude by deigning to save a wretch like me. I never said my middle name without flushing inmate-orange. I vowed never to tell it to anyone who didn’t absolutely have to know.

Our church nurtured a conviction that names are destined by God and hold powerful meaning, and I knew that going by a nickname would be counted unto me as sin. Nevertheless, as I entered my teens and began to carve a new facet of myself out of each new inch of freedom, I asked friends to call me “Beth” or “B” or “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” if they had to. Anything other than the name-nooses in which I had been choking. Anything to forget, however temporarily, the shame and condemnation that were my birthright.

{Continue reading over at Erika’s place}

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4 comments

  1. Beautiful, dear friend. XO I’ve really struggled with my name too, Krista, follower of Christ. “Follower” you know how that word strangles and suppresses and demeans us, “Christ” and how twisted and horrible that name is to me. A dear friend of mine floored me one day when she said I could choose any name I like and she would call me that, and I was allowed to change it any time. My friends in Oz only ever call me by nicknames at the best of times, so they were more than happy to change. I’ve gone from Penelope to Phryne to George. 🙂 I’m George for now, and it makes me smile every time. 🙂 I’ve also changed the meaning of my real name: “Embracer of Love and Light”. That makes my heart sing too. 🙂 I’m so glad that you are finding peace and joy with your name, remaking it, disentangling it from the awfulness of your past, reclaiming it and making it yours. XO

  2. Hi George. 🙂 “Embracer of Love and Light” is a gorgeous definition and one that fits you to a T. I’m so glad that you have dear ones in your life who will call you names that don’t make you feel strangled or suppressed any more. (I can only imagine how different this post would have been if my name meant something like “Follower of patriarchy.” Shudder.) Big hugs for your Tuesday, friend.

  3. So. All I can say is WOW. That post gave me goose bumps too. Beautiful, and moving. You are amazing.

  4. Megsie – Thank you, dear friend.

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