Indeed, What IS in a name?

Kunzang had some interesting thoughts on names the other day.  Well, she always posts interesting blog entries, but this one in particular I had already been thinking about.

Like Kunzang, I have a more unusual name, though you’d think my (married) last name wouldn’t cause so many difficulties.  My name is Dwan Tape.  Just eight letters, but they can cause a lot of consternation amongst others, especially over the phone.  There is also a sizable contingency of folks who want to either confirm that I am misspelling my name (“It’s ‘Dawn,’ right?”) or that I’m unsure of my gender (I once had someone argue that my name was actually pronounced Duane, and that I was, therefore, male.).  I was teased alot when I was young about my name.  Believe me, I’ve heard them all – “Da-Doo-wan-wan,” “Dwan, Dwo, Dwee, Dwour” and so on.

Once, when I was about seven or eight, my class stopped by the ruins of an abbey on the way back from a field trip (My Dad was stationed in England at the time.).  I remember walking around the grounds of this abbey’s skeleton – it was dark and misty and fabulously mysterious.   Anyway, I was looking down at the grey ruins of a wall rising up out of the wet grass when one of the parent chaperones asked me – for the zillionth time – what my first name was.  I was a bit exasperated, but once again related my name and it’s four letter spelling.  She then asked my middle name, and when I complied she said – “Your name is TOO hard.  I can’t remember it.  I am going to call you [XD keeping my middle name a secret here – but it’s a more common name….].  That’s so much EASIER.”  [Emphasis hers.]

Suffice it to say, I’ve had a lot of food for thought when it comes to names and how they affect our place in the world.  There are difficulties when it comes to having a more unusual name, but on the other hand – I have never in my life had someone call my name across a crowded room and had more than just me turn my head.

My husband also has an unusual name, though less so, and we gave all three of our kids unusual names.  We got a lot of flack about that – about how having an unusual name would just be horrible for them – until we pointed out that we thought we knew better than most how that works out for a kid.  And as they have all three grown older, they really have grown into their names – I’m very glad we named them as we did.  (Forgive me for not mentioning their names – internet safety and all that….)

However I feel about it, though, my name can cause some awkwardness.  When I correspond with people who are not being perfectly mindful in their email reading, etc., I will often run into folks assuming my name is Dawn.  It is a bit of a struggle for me to decide what to do about this.  I tend to want to just let it work out on its own, but either way there’s going to be a small amount of embarrassment surrounding it.  Still – I like my name and feel that it is exactly who I am.  So I tend to want to correct the situation.

The question is – how much our names is essential to who we are?  Am I grasping, or being egotistical?  I know that the ordained of Buddhism take up new names with their new lives.  I understand that, I think – both the idea of being someone new and renouncing something old.  I understand Dharma names too, I think.

Still – I wonder – what might be a best practice be when it comes to names.  What does your name mean to you?  How important is it to you?  How important SHOULD a name be?

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2 Responses

  1. I realize that my name, though not common, is not too uncommon. My name is Allen. Of course I get several misspellings but I’ve learned to correct them, gently, just once then let it go. However, my mother hated my name because it could, and often is, shortened to Al. (Long and boring story on how she named me something she hated.) I adopted her attitude while young. I used to say to people that I would not answer to Al, and didn’t. This sometimes cost me relationships. I have finally given up the struggle. I notice whether someone calls me Al or Allen; then I try to consider the content and apparent intent of their message and try to respond to just that. I am not perfect at it. I still get riled occasionally. Whta I have to remember is that it takes me a very long time to learn someones name. It is not that I am careless about other people, I just have a mild memory disorder. So how can I justify being upset with someone who cannot call me by my correct name when I cannot even remember theirs? The things that bother me about other people are usually character traits that I dislike in myself! 🙂

  2. Thought provoking post! I like the way you delved deeper into what I skirted or didn’t really consider. I think its courteous to make the effort to call people what they like to be called. The attitude of that parent chaperone reflects an energy, I think, of dismissal. I don’t think it’s an issue of grasping so much as mindfulness. That being said, my lay name was very often abbreviated into the first three syllables (Australians love to reduce names), even by my closest friends and sometimes partners. It drove me up the wall, and yet I was powerless to persuade people to call me by my NAME! I don’t think I ever really stopped feeling a twinge on hearing it. Yet at some point maybe you have to give up insisting and surrender……
    I was very happy when HH gave me the name Kunzang, there was never an issue for me of not changing my name legally. It reflects the purpose of my life and path – to accomplish that awakened state of Kuntazangmo. Yet, the mother of a good Australia friend of mine refers to me as “Kunzie”. Inevitable, I guess 🙂

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