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What's in a Name?

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

My family gave everything to be here, like so many. In this country. Both sides of both sides. My parents parents arrived here as children, some alone, some with their parents or other relatives. They were all whisked here to come from something toward something else, and they had to leave so much behind.

Their belongs, their food, their memories, the smells and sounds, the horrors and hopes, their religion and practices, and even their names. The pain and risk was assessed to be too great. Not just for themselves, but for what and who they perceived to be in their futures. As they each left it all to come to something better, it wasn't better enough for them to be safe enough here to keep something as intangible as a name. They had to become Tom instead of Carmine, Lottie and Loretta instead of Liberata, Louise instead of Hermionne, and the Angelionis and Rosarios, well, they had to find something else too. Giovanni is Italian for John, so that is a built in win, but oooooo, don't you love the sound of Giovanni? Francesca?

And in come millions of Franks and Susans and Joes and and Bobs and Richards, and Marys and if they are anything else, good luck. Suddenly, when faced with anything other than names like these, people forget how to read, or even politely ask with curiosity. They can read quiche, bureau, sorbet, lasagna, but they can't figure out Bernardino. When faced with a multi-syllable name, people become illiterate? I don't understand the lack of confidence. Sound it out, and try. Apply the reading skills you've learned. Ask. It's actually really weird not to, for everyone. If we can figure out quinoa, we can figure out anything.

Maybe if we were able to feel safe enough to keep our names then, not so long ago, we wouldn't be worried about AI algorithms bumping non-Samuel names out of the pile, and we would feel confident reading someone's name without it feeling like a risk.

Maybe the ripple effect would've been wider and we would be more curious or knowledgable, colorful, calmer, full of wonder, more available to take risks and less on autopilot. These are some of the words I hear from many people everyday who feel unsafe and unsettled in their own lives. Who feel discord everywhere. Who would we be as individuals, families, corporations, a nation, if one thing, like they all kept their names, was left in tact? It doesn't fix everything, it is a root and a start to consider.

Our predecessors had an understanding of risks and resourcefulness. Is this maybe part of why we are so cautious?

Birdi Sinclair - arancini Sicilian rice ball

The food would even be more glorious and regional. There are few restaurants that taste anything like my family of origin's cooking. It's all the same to me. It's ok. But my grandmother's cooking? mmm. simple and yet always perfect. And not only pasta and sauces. This is arancini, a common favorite and a traditional and delicious Sicilian rice ball. It's made differently by family and by region. This looks like ours:

What are we afraid of? Is it some weird artifact of the message that otherness is bad that keeps us timid of non-plain names? Do we name our children to fit the structure?

I was named to fit a structure. My name was different at birth than it is now. I was given a very careful name. I was not named in joy to celebrate a loved one or a famous poet or something charming, haha. I was named by practical people. I was given a name that was sturdy, designed to blend in with the times easily. (I think it was Miss America's name the year I was born or something like that?) It was to bring me independence from all things they had experienced, to break many cycles and to fill me with hope and obliviousness so that I could reap the benefits without so much of the struggle. The struggles they had endured, that I have heard only the parts they could bring themselves to share, in part for my learning, in part because I thought it was my birthright to know my heritage. They explained in their various ways that that was their story, not mine to pry into. It was mine to make my own future, and mine to know their character and substance. Their intentions were to go steadily forward. I was not to go backward. That was the plan. My basic name was armor and a gift. It was as carefully chosen as any name could be. They would go as far as they could go in their lifetimes to break cycles, my directive was to go further.

And in some ways it worked, however, the world has not changed that much, and the times I was born into were not simple enough to keep my innocence as they hoped. 

Women were being chemically sedated and lobotomized and institutionalized for being opinionated and depressed, people, even babies, with disabilities were being hidden or abandoned in yet other institutions, anyone of different religions or from other countries, even if the same skin color, were in separate neighborhoods, shamed, destroyed, and ostracized, women's rights was taking hold and was a huge conflict of messages, divorce was a new liberation and destruction, LGBTQ rights were blooming, abortion was a new political topic, leaders were being assassinated, neighborhoods burned, president resigning, controversial war and international conflicts brought people to the streets, thalidomide babies were popping up all over, spies and spaceships, Russian ballet defectors, and on and on. This was my childhood. Thank goodness for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and Batman. So for all the posts I read about the good ol' days running through neighborhoods catching fireflies and drinking from hoses, yeh, that happened, but this was also happening ALL THE TIME. Did they just not know? Do they still not know? And this is one brief paragraph. I liked watermelon with seeds, riding my banana seat or ten speed bike, my albums and honeysuckle bushes too,

but, I also knew. How could I not know.

Then AIDS, as the scourge from God, and Tiananmen Square, the good fall of the Berlin Wall. The world was on fire then too. How many Chinese or German names can we pronounce? How many times have you or you heard someone use a fakey accent when saying these kinds of names? Have you stopped and asked why that's supposed to be funny? It is not funny. I have a robust sense of humor. It is not funny. I promise you. Please re-evaluate.

It is not kinder, more curious, more open, accepting, equal times. Maybe it shows itself differently as time goes by. If my family arrived today, they would be faced with similar difficulties and discriminations and in some areas, less opportunities to build as much as they were able to then for themselves and for the generations they had in their hearts to come. I'm not sure when I look at what they were able to accomplish that if they were to arrive today, that this could be even possible.

So I changed my name. My first, middle, and last, reclaiming some of my not so distant roots. Because it is my way to give some promise back to them. What's in a name? Everything. Our hopes, our promise, our history, our community, our truth, our shared and common future. We cannot keep hiding and pretending anything and expect things will improve. The hostility and dangers are still there, even though the world is much different than it was when I was young. Where we came from, where we are, where we are going, I believe through seemingly small changes, like how we learn each other's names, and also, keep our names instead of feeling like by changing our names = safety or assimilation, may be a great place to start a ripple of respect.

With these hands - our world community - Birdi Sinclair

We can consider what is assimilation? What are we assimilating to? Why? How does it match our souls and honor wholeness? Whatever a person's name, pronouns, purpose, decisions, reasons, it is theirs. It is what they have. It is their NAME. Do they really need to make us more comfortable by finding something that we can pronounce because it is just easier or signals some willingness to conform, to become smaller or different than they are for everyone around them, chip at themselves because no one is available to learn a new word, that is THEIR word? It is ours only to be curious about or not. We can simply learn to use our mouths in a new way. It's good for neuroplasticity, like any puzzle. Brains like expanding.

It is a path of community. We are here together. It's not that difficult. It is un-training, perhaps of something so woven in, we didn't even think to ask our own selves about it. 

I am grateful. And my family existed as whole beings, not because of what the world wanted them to be or not be. And they were beautiful, or not sometimes. It is all very complex. A name. A name has become very complex, although on the surface, it seems so simple. So simple, we barely give it a thought. When we meet a dog on the street, we ask, "What is their name? Are they a boy or a girl?" And then we never see the dog again, but this is what we think to ask. We can extend this to another human. You see, it most definitely is not simple. And it is a way for us to choose, how will we contribute to or alleviate another's struggle in the complexities of the world? Are we welcoming or another hostile port?

I understand I may have raised some very difficult aspects in this post. My intention is never to offend, even if the topic is uncomfortable and direct. I welcome discussion. I am dearly invested in communion, understanding differences, growth. I would love to hear more about your family of origin name stories. They are important. They are all of our stories. They live in us and our communal body of experience, even if we may not have realized it. It may change the conversation and bring us home to each other. Thank you for reading.

Ama la vita d'altro,

Liberata (Birdi) Sinclair

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