Finding Your True Name


“A true name is a name of a thing or being that expresses, or is somehow identical with, its essential nature. It is comprised of everything that has  played a role in shaping it since its creation.” Wikipedia

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

church windowPeople used to take names and naming very seriously. They chose names for their children for the meaning associated with it, or for a saint with that name. Choosing a name was thought to bring that meaning to bear upon the child or gain that saint as a patron or intercessor.

It was also thought that to know the true name of an object or a person was to have some control over it.  Think Rumpelstiltskin.  Think of the Israelites refusing to say even a made up name for God. Remember “I have called you by name. You are mine.” from Isaiah 43

magicianMore recently you can think of The Name of the Wind.  I just started reading the second book in the series. In his magical Naming Class, Kvote learns that to call the name of something, like the wind, or water, or fire, or rock, gives the ability to control it, to send it where and how you will. No one can tell a true name to you. You must discover it for yourself, and to do that requires a subconscious connection to it.

entTrue names have such weight and history Treebeard told us in The Lord of the Rings, that to just say good morning to your friends could take you until the evening!

My name for myself (as I explained in About), did not grow longer. It is simply Jo.  I chose it for Jo March (Little Women). The beginning of its meaning was a promise to myself:  I wanted to be a writer like the character.  Yet, it also held nuances of her not quite feeling she was like other people, too in love with learning, liking school, loving books and able to be completely lost in them. Not always conforming to what everyone else thought was the expected, Jo March felt a little out of sync with her world. I knew Jo’s true name because it was my name, too.

(Ok, the non-sentimental and facetious side of me is singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!)

My family never used that name. I haven’t always shared it with others. I don’t sign my name that way. The first person to really see me as Jo, was my husband. It is intimate to me.  I am Joanne, too. That is my professional self. It is the name of a manager, a leader, a woman with achievements. I like it and it has a glorious meaning at its root, but Jo is deeper in my soul. When I feel closer to people who have been introduced to me as Joanne, at some point I mention “My friends call me Jo.”  Then, I wait to see if they use it. It tells me how they see our relationship, and it seems that those who choose to use it connect to me in that deeper way.

heart in sandYour Name

I wrote your name in the sky,
but the wind blew it away.
I wrote your name in the sand,
but the waves washed it away.
I wrote your name in my heart,
and forever it will stay.

– Jessica Blade –

Surnames fascinate me as well for their link to family and history. In the small historic town I live in, a significant number of names repeat, interwoven with distant but distinct family connections going back ten generations or more to the 300 year old roots of Edenton.

family treeMy maiden name was Polish and almost always mispronounced.  Ironically, though one of his brothers Americanized it to Powell, my father kept his name, yet he never told me any family history. For a lot of reasons, I don’t feel overly connected to it.  I know more of the roots of my mother’s family history, but again don’t think her family name fits me.

What has started me thinking about this is writing my book with a setting in Poland as a way to reconnect to family history.  My way to build that connection through the book was to include family names in it, including my Great Grandmother’s which is featured prominently.  This has recently made me question how I should have my name appear on the book if,  hopefully when, it is published.

authenticityWhen I was in college, given the difficulty of saying or spelling my maiden name, I assumed I would use a nom de plume when I became a writer. I even sat and made lists of possibilities. My favorite was Joanne Alexander. Then, I married.  I loved the simplicity of Joanne Eddy.  I like the rhythm of it, the cadence. I love the connection to my husband’s family.

But I am thinking about using my Great Grandmother’s name if I get my book published:  Joanne Sarnowski Eddy.  Not sure yet, and if I do land an agent they might have thoughts about it, pros and cons to share. The question remains for me, what is my true name?  What captures the essence of who I have been and who I am?  Maybe, it might even point the way to who I will be.

Have you ever thought about your name? First, last? Do they hold a history for you? A meaning? Do you see them as a composite of your experience? As who you are?

Sometimes, I think about other names we are called:  “Mom”  “Wife” “Friend” “Writer” “Author.” They are as much roles as names, but they impact our history, thus our true self. I guess my favorites of those names is the one I actively chose from a selection of possibilities:  Nana.  I picked it in honor of Doug’s grandmother, whom I loved, because, from her cookie baking to her storytelling, she fit my quintessential idea of what a grandmother should be. I love being Nana and I love my one granddaughter’s conversion of that name to Nina! I know that somewhere a corner of my soul has this label.

business-cardsI’m not sure if these rambling thoughts will make sense to others or if anyone else contemplates the idea of whether their name is a fit for who they are, or who they really desire to be.  Just Jo, out of sync with the world again.

Or do you? Have you ever questioned your name either for yourself or for how to use it in your writing? Or thought you wished for a different one?

Let me introduce myself, then. My true name is Jo.  And yours?




About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
This entry was posted in Writings by Wordsmiths and Others and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Finding Your True Name

  1. Bernadette says:

    Well thank you for considering us your friend. Yes, I have though about my name. Bernadette…a name I love but it seems doomed to obscurity. I find it so much fun when I run into another Bernadette. We feel like we belong to a club. We all have been raised Catholic, are of a certain age, and our mother’s saw The Song of Bernadette and wanted us to look like Jennifer Jones. My favorited name is MeMe. I chose that for my grandchildren to call me because their were two living grad moms alive when my grandson was born and I wasn’t going to play third fiddle this time!


    • joanneeddy says:

      I do, Bernadette! Also, I am trying to be very real in my blog. I have known more than one Bernadette (one nicknamed Bernie!) …and I do remember the movie (you made me laugh – all our mothers wanted us to look like movie stars – I think I am Joanne Woodward – not bad if I could have met Paul Newman!) Actually, this reminded me of a Deanna Kirk song that I love called Song of Bernadette (really lovely.) I love MeMe…so perfect for a grandmother name – much better than the ordinary ones. Our first grand daughter named Doug, Boppa, though we don’t know why. He loves it. Ella started greeting me as Nina when she was maybe two…then she got a little older and tried to call me Nana like the other three. It about broke my heart so I told her that Nina was her name for me and no one else could call me that…so she still calls me Nina now, even though she is ten! Always love to hear from you. Jo


    • joanneeddy says:

      So where or did you come up with MeMe? Is it a version of MeMaw (which is sometimes used in the South)?


  2. I love the names my grandchildren call me. To two of them I am curly-haired Nanny, and to the other two I am Nanu!


    • joanneeddy says:

      I knew we had a connection! At least with our grand children, we are rooted in the same word, though as my mother would say, my hair is straight as a pin! Doug’s grandmother was actually from England. She and her mother came from Cornwall (about the same time as my grandparents.) When I met her, Linda, Doug’s sister, was eight and called her Nana or Nanny. Doug and his brothers called her Nan. Nanu is a new one. I haven’t heard that before. Love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Little Voice says:

    Love this post. I have often thought of my ‘real’ name as Sunny. Somehow I have thought that best described me. I like my birth name–Margo. It’s unusual and distinctive, but I don’t emotionally connect to it like I do Sunny. My step grandchildren called me Granny Margo, and that was fun. And through some meditation I found my female side was named MeMe (my full name is Margo Elaine). I do understand the significance of calling myself MeMe, because it is, after all, all about Me.
    Between marriages I thought of changing my last name rather than keeping my former husband’s name or even my maiden name, but the name I wanted to use was Poe, since that was my mother’s maiden name. But, alas, Margo Poe just didn’t work for me. Hey, Sunny Poe isn’t bad!
    Thanks for the post.


    • joanneeddy says:

      Nice to meet you Sunny! Just visited your blog and want to note that sharing others beautiful pictures add depth and strength to your voice…making it grand and vigorous! You are the second person who told me their grandkids call them MeMe. In the Southern US “MeMaw” is sometimes used…but MeMe is new to me…I like it! Thanks for visiting me!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s