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.