What’s In A Name?

“Be yourself rather than worry about defining yourself.”

“And God said, ‘Let there be Light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.”

In these three separate acts, God sets the stage for a world of polarities. As soon as God separated, He created duality, just as He did when He labeled the light good.

Darkness scares us. Vampires and other monsters come out in the dark. We call a major life transition that catapults us out of our comfort zone a Dark Night of the Soul. “He’s gone to the dark side,” conveys a sense of embodied evil. The good guys wear white. Except for Zorro, the bad guys wear black.

Later in Genesis, God empowers Adam to name his world.

God used words to create the world. He spoke the world into being. Dictionaries define and attribute meaning to words. They are word gods.

Words create our thoughts. They coalesce into belief systems, and form our reality. Naming and labeling solidify an identity. They also fix it in time. For example, one of the three branches of Judaism is called Reform. Unwittingly, many people refer to it as Reformed, implying that it is done reforming itself; it has ceased to evolve. Minus the “ed,” it is an ongoing work-in-progress.

Naming is a heady experience. When we label, it feels permanent. It’s one way we attempt to minimize the discomfort of ambiguity and uncertainty, maximize predictability, and keep alive the illusion that we control our lives. We name our children after relatives or individuals we admire and respect, hoping they will inherit their cherished qualities. Rabbis change the Hebrew name of individuals with life-threatening diseases so the angel of death can’t find them.

Parents pigeonhole children with derogatory or favorable labels. Because I was rambunctious, curious, and feisty, “into everything,” I drove my mother crazy, especially after the birth of my brother. My adventurous spirit was not easily tamed. My overactive curiosity mandated constant surveillance.

Today I would be identified as high maintenance. To my mother, it was problematic, though my husband finds it charming.

Likewise, I was designated as “selfish,” just like my father. Only in my late thirties was I disabused of the negative connotation of “selfish.” My therapist jumped up and cut me off when I parroted my mother’s opinion of my father. “Jill,” he ranted, “You have to be selfish enough to take care of yourself. If you aren’t, you have nothing left to care for anyone else. The key is balance.” Continue reading