Saturday, March 21, 2009


Carolyn G. Heilbrun, in Writing a Woman's Life, talked about the power of naming. Men, she said, have always done all the naming, and left women without the power to name and define ourselves and our lives. This is true in very concrete ways, for example, as we obtain our surnames from our fathers first, and then our husbands. If we marry more than once we may have three or more names in the course of a lifetime, names that have nothing to do with who we are in the way that, say, a Native American's sequence of names over her lifetime describes her character or deeds she has performed.

Even the names in our society have names. There's your maiden name, if you are a woman, and your married name. Both describe us not in our own terms, but in relationship to men. But then what do we want to be called? It's a similar problem to the one Malcolm X faced in ditching his "slave name." After a few hundred years it is impossible to know what your name would have been, should have been, had slavery never happened. So he just went with the X. Women would have to go back about 2,000 years to find our "real" names, because even your mother's name was a man's surname before her, and her mother's, too. For that reason, settling for keeping your maiden name despite marriage(s) just isn't going to cut it.

Having one name gets us out of that box. And since a woman with a made-up name like, say, Wind Horse, seems kind of silly in mainstream America, I picked a good old English place name befitting my genealogy. Better yet, it sounds like a name either a girl or a boy could have been given, so it doesn't have the gendered expectations attached to it that a "Sally" or a "Joseph" would. That fits me, as I'm a little androgynous.

It will have to do until some mentor, some spiritual adviser, gives me my Indian name.


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