Weatherford Democrat

April 11, 2014

NOTES FROM THE JOURNEY: What’s in a name?


Weatherford Democrat

— By JOHN PAUL CARTER

Names are important. When my son, Rush, (who’s named after my father) and his wife, Vanessa, were expecting their third daughter, I gave up on having a male namesake and suggested, in jest, they call her “Johnnie Pauline.”

Instead, they wisely named her “Johannah Grace.”

But when we tried to call her by one name or the other, sisters Maddy (5) and Lina (3) insisted that we call her by both names. So she may be saddled with a double-name like her grandfather. But whatever name she embraces, she is pure “grace.”

My friend Wayne Davee, a retired Weatherford ISD educator, made a special effort to learn every student’s name at the beginning of the school year.

“One of the treasures that every child possesses,” he believes, “is their name. To remember their name and call them by it, is to give them that special gift of recognition.”

Wayne’s observation about the importance of names reminded me of the late Katherine Hepburn’s memorable role in “The Rainmaker.” She played Lizzie, a spirited, unmarried rancher’s daughter who despised her name and the plainness that it implied.

During a brief fling with the charming rainmaker Starbuck (played by Burt Lancaster), he renamed her “Melisande” in an attempt to woo her. The climax of the movie came when she had to choose between running away with the fleeing con-man or staying at home to marry File, the divorced deputy sheriff. Finally. she decided, “I’ve got to be Lizzie! Melisande is a name for one night – but Lizzie can do me my whole life long!”

In owning her name, she claimed her acceptance and celebrated who she was.

One of the first things that’s given to us when we’re born is our name. Social Security numbers aside, our name is that most personal thing that identifies us as an individual and sets us apart from all others. When someone calls us by name, it’s a sign that we’re somebody rather than just anybody or nobody. If somebody forgets our name, we may feel that we, in some sense, have been forgotten.

Sometimes, we’re cautious about introducing ourselves to strangers, because we realize that we’re giving them an important part of ourselves. And whenever we call another person by name, we give them that same gift that we treasure for ourselves – the gift of significance, of being known.

However, as I get older, names seem to be receding from the tip of my tongue. (I prefer to believe that at my age there’s more information to search through in the upstairs files.) To counter that trend, I try to keep my wife close by in hopes that she will recall the identity or other half of the name that eludes me. Sometimes the magic works. Name tags are also helpful at meetings and family reunions – except I forget to take mine off and wear it into Walmart.

On the other hand, when we find ourselves struggling to learn and remember each other’s names, perhaps we should view our effort as a sign of caring and love, rather than a cause for embarrassment. After all, it’s the way of our Lord - the Good Shepherd who “calls his sheep (us) by name.”

John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.