The Peril of a Name

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I’ve been in a philosophical mood lately, so I’ll start today’s post by sharing a fairy tale. Because nothing is more closely bound to philosophy than a fairy tale.

***

Once upon a time, a man and woman married and had a daughter, and they didn’t know what to call the child, so the husband told his wife, “Let’s name the child after you.”

His wife was charmed. The husband and wife were still deeply in love in those days, and the idea of a namesake for the purpose of romance was delightful. And so the child was named for her mother.

***

That is one version of the fairy tale. Here is another —

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Once upon a time, a man and woman married and had a daughter, and the wife asked her husband, “What shall we name the child?” and the husband said, “I don’t f*cking care! Name her after yourself. I have more important sh*t to worry about than this. Don’t ask me again.”

And so the wife named the daughter after herself.

***

People don’t usually swear in fairy tales, but this is the modern world, and some stories just have the cussing.

A third version of the same fairy tale is told in this way —

 

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Once upon a time, a man and woman married and had a daughter, and the wife asked her husband, “What shall we name the child?” and the husband didn’t answer. He left the house, went to the bar, and came home stinking of alcohol two days later. He did not want a child, and at the sight of his wife’s growing belly, he told her, “I wish I were dead.” They had a terrific fight then, a bitter screaming feud, and to make amends later, and thereby sweeten his wife’s feelings toward him, the husband said, “Let’s name the child after you. She’ll look like you. I think it will be nice to have a little you in the house.”

And so the wife’s feelings were sweetened, and she named their daughter after herself.

***

These are three of the fairy tales I’ve been told about how I came by my birth name, Melissa Gillon. Each version was shared by my mother over the years, to explain why we had the same name. I’ve been told other forms of this story, but these three versions are the only ones I can tolerate. So I deleted the others from all my mental software. Maybe the other versions still exist on my hard drive. Some would argue they do. I prefer to think of them as permanently deleted though. Wiped out forever. I like to give myself that power, that magic, over my own mind. That I could permanently delete something too painful to keep.

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Due to the constant presence of bitter screaming feuds in my house, verbal assaults waged between my mother and father, I grew up hating my name, as well as my nickname, Missy. I hated my name with such passion, I could have penned a hundred books of poetry to memorialize the intensity of my loathing.

In those poems, I’d capture the whine of my father’s voice as he expressed fierce contempt, the loud bellow of his scorn, the whispering slide of his icy fury, and most often, the pitiless tone of his voice whenever he spoke my name and my nickname during his fights with my mother.

I’d recreate the hatred and bitterness in his mouth, shaping those syllables. I’d craft the terror of other sounds in the harmony, the smashing of dishes, the explosion certain large objects make when they shatter.

Those would be the lyrics I’d pen in my poems. Had I written them.

Because my name was my mother’s, I heard my name often, though I was seldom the one being addressed.

So I ended up fighting a war. A series of battles as long as all the Crusades. Though instead of dragging around a sword and searching for Saracens to slay, I wanted someone to love me. From one camp to another, I waged my campaigns, and I amassed love, in abundance.

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And finally, decades later, when that name had been spoken more times in love than I ever heard it spoken in anger, the war began to turn in my favor.

By the time I turned 26, and changed my last name to Stacy, I was well on my way to victory. Ridding myself of my surname brought grace. And by the time I turned 33, and published my first two novels, I knew the last battle had been fought. My name was mine now. Mine. I owned it. Melissa. Missy. I’d claimed the sounds, finally, as syllables I could honor and respect.

So now I’ll switch gears. From fairy tales to philosophy. To the reason I’m writing this post.

I attended a Pagan meeting last week, in which everyone participated in a guided mediation for spirit names. I have friends and acquaintances who use only their spirit or shaman names as forms of address, such as Shining Mountain, Dreamweaver, Keeper of the Keys (who goes by Keep), Stardancer, Bright Star.

I love spirit names, shaman names, secret names. Names we choose for ourselves. Names we are bequeathed by the universe, in visions and dreams, by lovers and friends, mentors and gods.

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Maybe at some point in my life, I will want a spirit name. But I have no desire for one now, and never have. What I always wanted was my name, my given address, to mean something that didn’t hurt. And I fought a war for that name, a desperate and hardscrabble war, one I was sure I would lose for most of my life. One I was sure I HAD lost for most of my life.

New studies in children’s psychology are revealing that it is more painful for a child to hear one of their parents call the other parent “a worthless piece of sh*t” than for the child to be directly told by a parent, “YOU are a worthless piece of sh*t.”

In other words, when parents verbally attack each other in front of their children, this registers in the child as MORE painful than to be verbally attacked themselves.

Which is fascinating, isn’t it? Human beings have such a tremendous capacity for empathy and love. The fact that this research concerning verbal assault holds true for young children as well as teenagers is certainly proof of how deeply our sense of self, and our empathy for our parents — as well as our immense gratitude to them for our lives — truly runs. Whether we know it or not, whether we feel it or not, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. We are born to love our parents. We are born to hurt when they hurt.

My name is my mother’s, and my name carries my history. But only sometimes. Our pain is not our destiny, or our future. My name is armor, or a gown. A lullaby, or a curse. Something powerful, something weak. I’ve learned to slip in and out of meanings because I create and destroy meaning all the time, with words and with sound, that’s my blessing as a writer. It’s something we all do, in our personal narratives, whether we record them or not.

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I’ve walked a particular path, and I’ve fought a particular war. On the other side of hell, I found glory.

There is peril in a name. And redemption. Though our lives are unique, we all walk ancient paths, and fight ancient wars. Melissa or Missy, Bright Star or Dreamweaver, Keeper of the Keys, Shining Mountain, Stardancer.

No matter what we are called, we are the universe in motion, the darkness and light in our breath, and the salt in the stars runs in our blood.

The world is a hymn and we all know the harmony, lyrics that resound in a place far beyond words, but echo through each of us, distinctly.

***

In writer news, I’ve finished a fantasy novel titled Bloodshade of the Goddess, and am now in the process of having the manuscript beta-read. I’m also sending out query letters to literary agents, to see if there might be any industry interest in the book. In the meantime, I’ve returned to work on my mer novel, a fantasy story starring mer-people titled The War in the Sea, and I’m finishing my final proofread on my e-book for Mark of the Pterren. Hopefully, I’ll have that done soon! 🙂

 

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2 Responses to The Peril of a Name

  1. April D says:

    Your non-fiction often takes my breath away and this post has left me speechless. “No matter what we are called, we are the universe in motion, the darkness and light in our breath, and the salt in the stars runs in our blood.” I’m just going to take that, roll it around in my mind before I head to sleep, and dream of being one tiny, beautiful cog in this motion-filled universe.

    Like

  2. adriana says:

    Well, that is a very sad beginning. But interesting, is it not, that in the world of fiction, the third version is the most riveting. Though in real life it is the worst one.

    Like

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