Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Any Other Name

My friends and family had to get used to calling me "May" after I started going by my middle name in Seattle a couple years ago. It was important to me that who I was felt on the same level as the name people call me and I most definitely did not feel like a "Rachel" any more.

Even as a kid, I was hardly ever called by my full first name. My siblings all used some nickname, ranging from Rachie Bug to Rachello (my very least favorite), and most friends just settled for "Rache." My name and its meaning was constantly impressed upon me by my parents' choice of decor. On the dining room wall they have pictures of each of us six kids, one of us as babies, the other of us as high school seniors. Between the two, they've hung a placard for each of us showing our name, its meaning and a related bible verse.

"Rachel," if you don't know, means "little lamb," a concept that is totally based in Christian mythology where the believers are the good sheep and the unbelievers are the evil goats that god will turn away from him on the last Judgment Day. Like this Cake song:

As a kid I was pretty okay with my name's meaning until some friends of ours moved out to the country and started raising sheep. When I met their sheep, I realized how ugly, stupid and gross sheep are. After that, I wasn't very happy with my name meaning.

The stupidity of the sheep v. goats with sheep being held up as role models hit me even harder after I met the tons of goats another family I knew (one with 12 kids!). The goats, unlike the sheep, were intelligent, cute, cuddly and very playful. You could play with goats and have fun. Sheep just stand there and look stupid.

After I pulled away from the Baptist church and was going to Maple Woods, my name was shortened to "Rae Rae" (couldn't just be the one "Rae" cuz that' s my sister-in-law's name and as I kept telling my friends, I am NOT married to my brother), which was acceptable at the time, but my designation as a "little lamb" still felt completely false to me. A feeling that was heightened by this love letter from my current boyfriend, back when we were just fooling around behind out respective bf/gf's backs:

I believe there are two types of people: wolves and sheep; not wolves in the farmer's incorrect assessment as being sly and evil and wrong; nor their incorrect assessment of sheep as being innocent and good and right; rather, wolves in the sense of beautiful, intelligent, caring, independent, self-sufficient creatures of grace and love; and sheep in the sense of slow-witted, disease-ridden, ugly, selfish, following creatures of fear and hate.

I believe you are a wolf. [Note: this is just an excerpt]
This solidified my feeling that I was definitely not a "little lamb" any more, if I'd ever been, and once I moved to Pennsylvania I was good and sick of my name and the stupid religious future it implied my parents had planned for me. Unfortunately, no one in PA seemed to believe in nick names so I was called "Rachel" constantly and it drove me fricken nuts. By the time I was moving to Seattle, I was prepared to rename myself and it only just made sense to go with my middle name. Not only is "May" related to a lovely spring month, it is also a family name from one of my great-grandmothers. My family is important to me, even if it may not seem that way due to my crappy relationship with my parents, and I was happy to take on an identity connecting with my ancestors.

I didn't expect much to change based on my name, except that I'd stop feeling irritated anytime someone called out to me, but so much more happened. Renaming myself gave me the strength to realize I could truly define myself however I please and it was only after becoming "May" that I've begun to emotionally and otherwise grow the fuck up. I feel it's helped me come into my own.

So it was incredible to me to find out that "May" means "flower," which rocks seeing as I really feel I've blossomed the past couple years. It's lovely having a name that I want to answer to.

Related posts:
Now and Then
On the Death of Polaroids (and My Love Life)
Living with Emotional Blackmail

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JOCOeveryman said...

You are an interesting person with your hard core Baptist background. Have you completely rejected your Christian upbringing or just the hypocritical people associated with it? I have some definite thoughts on it.

May said...

Well, I'm certainly not a Christian.