“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
People 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
More 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.
True 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.
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.
My 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.
When 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.
I’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?