What’s in a Name

Last week, somehow, all my morning stars aligned.

While my son slept (in my bed) and my daughter snuggled in her bed (watching a show on my phone), I went downstairs and fixed myself a cup of coffee before settling down in front of the computer.

I was lucky, because minutes before my daughter hijacked my phone I saw the weekly prompt from The Inky Path and was immediately intrigued by the title: Your Name.

social security name

No one was asking me for breakfast – yet. I didn’t have to make lunches – yet. Birds floated gracefully around the feeder outside my office window while I wrote for ten blessed uninterrupted minutes.

Below is the inkling of the prompt (pun intended) and my response. I highly recommend heading over to The Inky Path and signing up for their FREE weekly newsletter and prompt. (They also have fabulous writing classes with reasonable fees. I’m not being compensated for saying such things, I just happen to believe them.)

Tell us about the name, or rather, your name. What is the story of your name? What is your relationship with the name that was given to you at birth? Do you use it as it is or in a shortened version? How has your name affected your life? Who would you have been with a different name? If you had the chance to choose your own name, what would it be?

I was never a big fan of my name. Dana Schwartz. It’s not as bad as my first (and last) Cabbage Patch Doll, Phyllis Hortensia (!), but it just didn’t mean anything. Well, that’s not true. Technically, Dana means from Denmark. But I’m not Danish.

I went through periods as a kid where I wanted to change my name. When I wished my parents had named me something else. Hailey was one of their choices. So was Robin. That was a close call. My father was concerned because he thought I looked a little like a bird when I was born. This was kind of true. He didn’t want anyone to make fun of me. My mom mentioned the name Summer once, and oh, I would’ve loved that. I was born in summer and I adore summer, so it would have fit.

How would my life be different if I were Summer Schwartz? It sounds kind of funny, but then most things do paired with Schwartz.

That’s another non-story. Schwartz was not my great grandfather’s last name. It was given to his family upon arrival at Ellis Island. Their name was Polanska. Too Polish? Too hard to pronounce? They gave them a new name, Schwartz, which means black in German, and that was that. An empty name. A placeholder.

A placeholder for what? A husband? I always considered, despite my feminist leanings, changing my name when I got married. But then I met a lovely man named Steven Plac. His last name is actually pronounced “Platz” in Poland, but here in America, they say, “Plack.” A name reminiscent of tooth decay. Sigh. What a waste.

Despite my husband’s wishes, I chose not to become Dana Plac. But it wasn’t just the sound of the name that made me hesitate, there was another reason I held onto Schwartz. It was my name. It belonged to me. Even though it had no bearing on my cultural background, even though I never liked how it sounded, garbled in the mouth, it was mine. I held it since I was born and giving it up felt like losing something.

Oh, but what about Summer? That sounds like a carefree girl. Someone who is not so uptight or worried or anxious. The kind of name of a girl who takes off her top at parties maybe, after too many drinks? The kind of hippie girl who dances around half naked around bonfires on the beach? Sorry, Summer, maybe you’re not like that. But there are worse things to be than carefree. Maybe it would’ve been nice not to be so damn self-conscious and concerned about what others think. Summer might not have cared. She might have danced right beside the fire and felt the warmth.

I don’t know who I would’ve been if my mom named me Summer. It comes down to mothers, somehow. I think my mother was the one to have the final say. It should be that way. We women do carry the babies. We know them before they emerge, we know about their secret selves.

As a child I held onto the idea that I could change my name. Maybe I could become Summer after all. I told my mother, when I’m 18, I’ll do it. But 18 came and went, oh boy, did it go, and here I am, forty years old, still holding onto my name, Dana. Two syllables, like Summer, but more solid, tethered to the ground, hearty, like a plant that digs in, takes root, and tilts its head toward the sun, feeling the warmth that way.

What do you think of your name? Did you ever consider changing it? I’d love to hear your story in comments.

25 thoughts on “What’s in a Name

  1. My middle name is Hope bc my parents were in a really rough place when they had me, and they were hoping that I’d fix everything. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) when I was young I always wished that was my first name, and for half a year in 7th grade I made everyone call me by that name. It didn’t stick.

    Great piece – and great writing prompt! I may just have to try this one.


    • Oh, WOW, now that is a story indeed. It’s crazy how people pin hopes (um, pun intended) on names and children. Neither is really a sure thing, is it? Let me know if you do the prompt, or maybe it will end up on your blog 🙂


  2. My name is earthy, of course, and that’s me. More than once I’ve been told I’m “grounding.” I used to think my name was boring (haha!) and I definitely wished I had something more fiery, maybe more like Summer! But I’m okay with it now. Like you, I decided not to take my husband’s name because this name is mine. Though at times I wish I had the same last name as my kids. On that note, I agree with you that mothers should get the last word in naming their kids!


    • I love everything about this comment, Tara! I used to think Dana was boring too, but now I am grateful to have it over what was more “trendy” back then 🙂 I just called my dad and was like, I hope you know I DO like my name now! I’m not sure that came across enough in the prompt. It’s something I just needed to grow into. It’s funny, my kids are pretty accepting that we have different names. I think it may have bothered my daughter briefly, but now she is unfazed. I like to joke, hey, we don’t need to have the same last name for me to know you’re mine 🙂


  3. I’m a summer baby too! Had I been a boy, I would have been Darren Jonathan. DJ! Tamara Eden was the only girl choice. They all called me Tammy for most of my life, which is probably why I do love Tamara. It’s still new to me. It’s exotic to me.
    In high school, I tried to go by Claudia but it only lasted a day!


    • I think Tamara Eden is a pretty fab name. My very dear friend from childhood is Tamra, but went by Tammy and then the self-imposed Tami in middle school, and is now Tamra. That was something I missed as Dana, the ability to be nicknamed 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone



  4. What a great prompt. I love the name Summer also, it does bring to mind all things free and enchanting. But I love that you kept Dana, rooted, strong, turning your face to the sun. We are such a mix of names. I sometimes wish I had my mother’s maiden name which was Sharkey, or kept my father’s last name, Dyer. He died when I was 13 and his last name is a piece of him. But I took my husband’s last name only to learn that it was not his first last name – his step-father adopted him and he bears a last name of no blood relation or connection to his Norwegian heritage. Such a tangled web! I have always had a handful of nick names, I recently tried to use my full first name, Theresa, and yeah, that did not last. But I have never really felt at home with any of my nick names either. The only name that ever felt right was “mom.”


    • Thank you so much for sharing your name story, Terri. I’m very sorry about your father, I didn’t realize he died when you were so young. I just love the last line here, “The only name that ever felt right was ‘mom.'” Oh, that is beautiful.


  5. There is SO MUCH I loved about this post, Dana. I read it over the weekend and waited until I had two (quiet) minutes to leave a comment–but I have been thinking about it the entire time. Names fascinate me. I LOVE the idea of thinking about what life might’ve been like had I had another name. I never thought about that before (and I love that yours was Summer). But also I liked this post because I too kept my name upon marriage, and so when you write “It was my name. It belonged to me.” I completely understand where you are coming from. There were actually a few reasons why I did not take my husband’s last name, but mostly it was because of what you write about here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Believe me, I understand all too well about waiting for that quiet two minutes. That’s why this response is so delayed 🙂 Thank you so much for reading. I love that this prompt resonated with you. I kind of wonder if I had met a man with a last name I loved, if I would’ve changed it or not. I think I might have kept Schwartz after all. Names have such weight.


  6. Ahhhhh, Love this, Dana. “But 18 came and went, oh boy, did it go . . .” That made me smile–all the stories behind that:) There really is so much personality within a name isn’t there. Your imagery of the name of someone named Summer is gorgeous. My parents always tell me they almost named me Ukelele at the relentless begging of my big brother. . . That was a close one, too. I took my husband’s name. But I’ve always missed my maiden name. It’s Czechoslovakian and more rare and exotic than my married name. I envy my sister-in-law a tiny bit who got to take MY last name, and now all her kids get to wear it on the back of their sports jersey’s!


    • Julie, what a wonderful comment, thank you! I just love the stories coming out of this prompt. I’m very relieved that you didn’t end up as Ukulele (!) that certainly is a close call. And how interesting that your sister-in-law gets to keep “your” original last name… I’d love to know what it is, event though I think Julie Jo Severson has a lovely music to it.


  7. I loved this post, Dana. I’ve written about my name before, but in an entirely different context. I’ve often thought about the subterfuge underneath names, as well the process in which our parents/family members name us and what we carry because of it. You’ve given me so much to think about. There is a freedom in thinking about an alternate name as you’ve demonstrated with Summer, but also a price. Thank you for writing this piece. xo


  8. At my step-mom’s country club, there was a mother-daughter team named Summer and Winter. The granddaughter was Spring. Weird. But I know what you mean about a name. I was adopted and didn’t know my “real” name until I was 30-something and then was glad I had my name. But then I found out I was named after a doll that my mom had.
    So much, and yet, so little, in a name, and this post is amazing.


    • Oh my goodness, Summer, Winter, and Spring! That sounds like a fictional story, which I may have to write someday 🙂 What a tangled web our name stories turn out to be. For you, to be named after a doll. For me, a Dane! Do you know the actress Charisma Carpenter? She was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I got to interview her years ago for a magazine, and she was named after a perfume!


  9. I love my first name (though didn’t as a kid.) I sometimes feel guilty about how quickly I ditched my maiden name. I was like, see ya! It was always hard to spell.

    Loved this, Dana. So much good stuff in here.


    • I love your first name, too, Nina. It’s old-fashioned and yet not dated. Classic. How funny about your last name! It’s hard to imagine you as anything but a Badzin 🙂


  10. Pingback: A Few Friday Faves | being RUDRI

  11. Names carry so much weight — all of our preconceived notions of who the person is. I’ve often wondered if the child grows into the idea of the name. I take a lot of care when I select names for the characters in my stories for this reason. I think the reader brings a lot of these ideas to bear on the story.
    Terrific piece!


    • I wonder that too, Jackie, and I’m still not sure if a name does help shape a personality. I think this is also why it’s so hard for me to choose names in my fiction, because I know how important it can be! Thank you for reading 🙂


  12. I loved this when I read it first, and have had it open in my browser for a few days, trying to find time to comment in a worthwhile way! I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but I so, so get the not giving up your name bit. I didn’t want to change my maiden name (Cannavaro) to my husband’s last name (Rice…. um… booooooring). Eventually we settled on an entirely new last name and I’ve been satisfied and happy with that. There’s so much identity wrapped up in names and origins and tradition. Anyway… lovely post. Thank you. ❤


    • You’re so sweet, and I think this comment is more than worthwhile! I LOVE that you created a new name (and love that it’s Night!). I wish my husband was into that, but he’s a bit more traditional 🙂 But I get it, because I’m attached to my name too, and now that we have a daughter, maybe he understands a bit more since she will be more likely to keep her (his) name if and when she marries.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Dana is such a pretty name. Enjoyed reading about your history. I wanted to change mine (Kathleen) so old fashioned for so long as a child. But it stuck and I can’t imagine Belinda or whatever name I thought cool at the time Dana. I almost called my daughter Summer it is such a pretty name.


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