The name I was given is different than the name I prefer to be called in adulthood.
That’s right, I have renamed myself.
In my opinion, someone self-selecting the word that represents their identity in conversation isn’t that weird, however, most people don’t do it, so let’s unpack the concept a bit.
As a fan of word studies and really digging into concepts that intrigue me, I’ve been chewing on this question for a few years now: What is in a name?
It surprised me to discover that many people don’t give much thought to their name, especially if it’s simple and hasn’t been a focal point in their life. However, your name is a big deal, it’s part of your identity and can impact your success in life.
A name is the single item which is wholly and completely owned by a person.Solomon Northup in Twelve Years a Slave
To really get the weight of how important names are, consider the examples from history where stripping of names has been used as a psychological weapon.
Slave owners would take away the ‘native’ names of their slaves and assign them more ‘American’ names, or simply call them boy or girl. Similarly, during the holocaust, people in concentration camps were assigned a prisoner number and their names were not used. This stripping of their identity was part of dehumanizing them.
In the dystopian community from the book turned TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale, names are also stripped away. Handmaids are called by their ‘commander’ (aka owner) name. So the main character June, becomes of-fred, others are of-john, of-caleb, and so on.
My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.Margaret Atwood in A Handmaid’s Tale
Having your name taken away feels horrible, disorienting, and very personal and deep aggression. So much so that it’s weaponized and used in warfare.
What about being given a name?
Every second of the day, a parent somewhere is giving a child a name. It has become a new trend to wait on naming a baby until it is born and sometimes until its personality can begin to show. Most parents consider the originality of the name, the various meanings of the name, or the history of the name when gifting it to their child. Like I said earlier, it’s a pretty big deal given that our names can set us up for success or for endless corrections or even bullying. As a baby, we rely on our parents to gift us with that first name.
Then, as adults, there is the tradition of a woman being ‘given’ her husband’s last name which has its roots in women as property (we’re talking as recently as 1972 in the US) and the change of name signifying the shift in ownership from father to husband. I changed my last name when I got married, and I changed it back when I got divorced. Side note, I must say, it strikes me as odd that this changing of my last name wasn’t questioned in the least, but when I changed my first name, so many people were weirded out and offended.
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.The Bible, Genesis 17:5
There are more than 50 people in the stories of the Bible who are given a new name, and these are just the ones we know about, it stands to reason there were more during that era. Sometimes the new name came from God in a vision or dream, other times it was given by Jesus, the Apostles, or just … someone.
There is nowhere in the Bible where it actually explains why people were often given new names. However, it’s widely accepted that it was to signify a re-birth or a new beginning. Hence the common practice of being given a new name upon baptism in many Christian traditions.
So now we have names and the practice of re-naming as part of a spiritual growth ritual.
Your name is your first medicine. It’s a vibrational medicine and the music that informs who you are. Because you hear your name again and again and again and again.Aisha Edwards recently discussed the importance of names on the Embodied Astrology podcast this is a slight paraphrase from that episode.
Sunni was a nickname given to me in high school and I brought it back about 7 years ago in my personal circles. When I left corporate 5+ years ago I began using Sunni all the time and requesting that people who had met me as Sara, begin calling me Sunni.
For starters, there are SO many Saras out there, but not a lot of Sunnis, so it *often* helps in groups to have a more unique name.
But really, a name carries meaning. This concept of a name as a vibrational frequency, like medicine, resonates with me. At some point in my late 20’s Sara was no longer the frequency that fit the person I was becoming.
I do honor the history and intent behind my given name.
My parents were expecting a boy when I was born, so it took them some time to land on a name for me. They named me after my great grandmother, Sara Pezzella, who I knew as a child. She lived through several wars and raised 4 kids during the depression. She used to fold our laundry while watching the Price is Right. I admired her strength and pulled from it as her namesake.
I grew up in a fundamental Christian home, so I studied Sarai (who, ironically, is one of the 50+ to get a new name – she became Sara). She was Abraham’s wife, is considered the first matriarch of Judaism, and taught me much about faith, patience, and stubbornness.
In Hebrew, Sara means “Princess”. As a kid my father would tease me about this, calling me Miss Priss. Then, as a teenager, I would spout this Princess fact to justify my very Leo-Esque dramatic ways.
Sara served me well.
Sara is the person who survived assault from three different men by the age of 21. Sara is the person who grew up thinking her predictable future was to end up with a dozen kids, married and barefoot in a trailer park. Sara is the person who managed to build a career in technology despite not having a college degree. Sara got really damn good at surviving and even thriving.
A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.Dale Carnegie
Thing is, the more I study archetypes and words, the less and less Sara feels right for me. I am no one’s princess, however, I am my own Queen.
Sunni gives me a future to live into. Sunni reminds me to be authentic, genuine, and fiery. Sunni reminds me not to dim my light for anyone.
Sunni is the person who turned that career into early retirement. Sunni is the person who fulfilled her childhood dream of experiencing all 50 states. Sunni is the person who created a peaceful and empowered divorce experience. Sunni is the person who designs her future and is living her best life.
Sara is the name my parents gave me to start off this life. She will always be a part of me. And now that I’m an adult, self-aware and creating my own world and future, well, Sunni is who I create myself to be.
While I didn’t have all of this awareness, understanding, and research under my belt when I started becoming Sunni, it doesn’t make it any less true. Not everyone needs a new name to mark a new beginning or a new frequency, and, it’s a powerful act and access to self-actualization.
You may not understand this, or agree with it – that’s cool. I certainly don’t intend to hurt or offend anyone with my choices. To be honest, though, my name isn’t about you, it’s about me. So, I request that you honor me by using my preferred name.