What’s in a name?

“And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man,
And he shall be Levon,
In tradition with the family plan,
And he shall be Levon,
And he shall be a good man,
He shall be Levon.” – Levon by Sir Elton John

Eager parents full of anxious anticipation search through baby name books for months looking for the perfect name. They even go so far as to come up with a list of possible nicknames that could be derived by bullies at their future offspring’s school, as if their kids are destined to be beat up. They make sure that the initials don’t spell anything weird, that it looks good on a business card, on a law firm, in the newspaper, in a crime report, in an announcement, with a Dr., Mr., Miss, Professor, Sir and Lord in front of it. They say it backwards, forwards, with middle names and without, in an introduction, in a whisper, in an argument, and in a song. They practice yelling the name in full, shooting it out of their mouths like bullets from a gatling gun, preparing for when their child forgets to do the dishes or accidently breaks a window. They bury their faces in dictionaries looking for the meanings behind names, making sure that Claude doesn’t actually end up “crippled” and Mallory isn’t as “unlucky” as her name foretells. They worry about keeping the family name, or any family name, naming daughters after grandfathers by adding an “a” to the end, shoving great aunts’ surnames in the middle, making juniors and seniors and the ever-complicated “III”. Parents can spend the nine months of incubation in agony finding the perfect name. They search and stretch and practice and recite and plan. But they forget one thing: it’s not their name. And after all is said and done, that is what matters.


Everyone has a name, but it is what we call ourselves that matters. That’s why some people go by nicknames or middle names or even change their names. Others use the one printed on their birth certificate. We have a special attachment to our name. It defines us. We are forever linked to it. No matter where we go it follows us. Whether we have one name or several aliases, we are always connected to it. Our very reputation can either glorify or stain a name. A minor misstep can have the gravest effect and the smallest good deed can link it with greatness. Even though we share the same combination of letters with several hundred thousand people worldwide no one will ever have our name. We are born with it and we die with it. And even after death our name lives on, engraved on tombstones, printed in obituaries, written on the back of photographs, inscribed in love letters, engrained in the minds of loved ones and enemies.

We may not get to choose our name, but we are the ones who give it meaning.


Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! … How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” – John Proctor, The Crucible

3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Nana says:

    My darling granddaughter
    you are a great writer
    you continue to amaze me
    I’m sure my comment was expected to have some connection to the piece but no……
    I am just happy that we share a name
    knowing that you are a teensy part of me makes me very happy

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