Inventing The Self Through Names



My eighth grade friend Shannon, whose name meant "old wise river," read a thick dime-store romance novel and thereafter required us to call her Tara, which meant "elevated place."

Although I believe she simply loved whatever Tara's paramour did to her in the book, Tara she became. I thought she was silly on one hand; on the other, I secretly wanted a more exotic name than Carol and certainly a less homespun name than Carol Jean.

I suspect it is a rite of passage for teenage girls, in the agony of first loves and body changes, to want to be someone beautiful, polished and exciting -- anyone else.

That wish dovetails with activities like replacing your last name with that of the young man you are madly in love with. I practiced what my signature might be as Carol Walker and Carol Weaver.

Cute (although my sixth grade teacher labeled him "trouble"), Jeff Weaver's first name actually meant "gift of peace." Together, we'd have been a "song of peace," which makes sense because it would have been an interfaith marriage between an at-the-time Mormon and a Jehovah's Witness.

Jeff wasn't at Carson Junior High so I tried my signature out ending with Nash, Duffy and Parkhurst, before exchanging Jennings for La Valley when I was no longer a teen. (I insisted on a space between the a and the V yet John didn't use one.)

When the marriage ended, I briefly considered changing my last name to my Popa's first name, Jarvis, meaning "spear." In the end I kept La Valley because John and I had a child and I liked the way La Valley looked as my signature-- plenty of possible curlicues.

Our daughter received her rather exotic first name from her father years before we even considered having a child. Astronomy was his hobby and Andromeda is the only galaxy we can see from this planet with the naked eye. In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the princess the hero Perseus saved from Poseidon's monster, the Kracken. What name could go with Andromeda but Selene, the goddess of the moon?

She claims she hates her full name and is glad to be "Andi" for short.

Last year, at age 11, when she found out Brianna Rose, "rose on a high noble hill," was my second choice, she was quite adamant about changing her name when she turned 18. (Shannon, I mean Tara, was adamant too. I wonder if she ever did?)

At Emerson Elementary School I ran for student council when I was 10. My slogan was "Carol Jean the jelly bean" and I threw out jelly beans after my campaign speech. It was several years before I lived my campaign down. I like to think Lori, the first girl ever to win, did so the next year because I paved the way with those magic beans and not because her name meant "crowned with laurel."

The name parent(s) bestow upon a child says something about the parents-- okay, maybe it doesn't say much.

New names are chosen as a rite of passage in Native American culture. In Western society, names follow trends. Jarvis is not the moniker parents hang on their children today nor is Carol bestowed upon male children.

According to the Social Security Administration the top American baby names for 2004 were Jacob and Emily. Jacob wasn't even on the list five years earlier and Emily was number 13. The flower children of the 1960s gave birth to a host of seasons and favorite blossoms, at least for their daughters, but those names still didn't make the top 20.

When females don't know what their name means I think it is odd. Carol means "song" or "hymn." My fraternal grandmother's name is Jean, a variant of Jane which is a variant of John which means "God is gracious."

I always thought I was named in part for Grandma, until my biological father said he was dating a woman when my mother was pregnant and that woman's name was Carol Jean. To this day I am not certain if he was lying. What an idiotic thing to lay on your kid.

Yet at some unpinpointable moment in the last 39 years I became comfortable with my name.


I've achieved my goal of becoming a paid writer by 40.

Newspaper writing has provided nothing if not discipline, and now, more than ever, I want to succeed at writing in other styles and genres.

Perhaps, like slipping into a dress I can slip into another name and change my style and my focus.

Tales woven by Issandrene or C. Stuart "house guard" Olson will be meant for different audiences.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.