Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's In a Name?

Today, I'm thinking about my name.  I'm not sure I like it.  For the longest time, I kept wanting to change it, to be something or someone else.  Interestingly enough, I got that opportunity when I wrote Barely Breathing.  I changed my name to Micah Michele, and then all felt right in the world--until family members kept telling me they couldn't find the book.  I had to remind them I wrote under a different name, and then the repeated question was why?  When I got ready to publish The Grim, I thought I'd do it again.  Maybe not write under Micah Michele but fashion myself an even newer name that everyone was bound to love and remember.  It would be much better than Raynetta Stocks, and I'd live in infamy.

As good writers do, I asked for feedback.  I sent my family and friends several pseudonym options via email and said, "Which do you like best?"  This focus group turned out to be an exercise in disaster because no more than two people liked the same name, and of course, that exhausting question continued to repeat, "Why aren't you writing under your own name?"

Honestly, I was so infuriated by the question primarily because...well, I didn't have a legitimate answer.  I didn't know why I wanted to change my name or what I thought I would accomplish by doing so.  I wanted my name in lights--so long as it wasn't my real name.  And very quickly, that became a relatively ridiculous notion.

Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  I'm sorry, William, but I must beg to differ.  Our names have meanings, and if we bother to connect to those meanings, we'll find something very beautiful indeed.  Take "Raynetta", for example.  I looked it up and found that my name means "Law Unto Itself".  Well, hotdog!  Here I was thinking my grandmother just made it up because my parents couldn't agree on the two names they had picked out, and all the while God was whispering in my grandma's ear: "Name her Raynetta."  The explanation went on to describe very strong, accurate, and surprisingly positive characteristics about myself: a finisher, tolerant toward humanity, warmhearted, compassionate and empathetic, bold and independent, a freedom seeker.  I am all these things; they are the attributes I've struggled for the last three decades to see in myself every time I look into the mirror.

I can't say that everyone lives up to their name, especially if they are never told what it means, but innately, I believe our names become the foundation of what we grow to be.  A prophecy, if you will, of the person our parents pray we become.  It's the place we start from, the place we blossom from.  Yes, you could call a rose by a different name, and yes, it would still smell sweet--but that rose gained notoriety by its name not its smell.  Were it not called a rose, wouldn't it be more difficult to recognize in conversation?  To search for on the internet?  To request in the floral shop?  Your name is your first definition.  It's your first glimpse at your purpose.

How can I see any other name in lights besides my own?  If Micah Michele were plastered on a Times Square billboard, would something resonate in me?  By any other name, would my work be less good?  Perhaps not. But in some ways, attempting to rename myself simply disowns me from the dream I pursue.  Because if I ever achieved greatness with a pseudonym, that person would not be me.  I would not recognize her--and neither would the world.

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