This fall, as I was in the midst of pushing toward completion of my first book, I had the good fortune of picking up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. If you haven’t read it, you simply must. Seriously. Stop reading this and head immediately to your locally-owned bookseller and purchase a copy, because you’ll want to read it again and again. Or, if you do not have a local bookseller available to you, open a new browser window and head to Amazon whereupon you must order a copy and commence reading it as soon as it arrives. Yes, it is that good. Both in content and in remarkable storytelling. It’s so good, in fact, that it caused me to have panic attacks about the quality of my own work, inspiring me to rip apart my manuscript draft and completely reorganize it into a different book altogether.
But this is not a book review. It is, as the title suggests, about the meaning of names.
I have, of late, been thinking quite a bit about names, an exercise prompted by the realization that I must come up with a proper pseudonym under which to publish my future work, in order to protect my children’s identities. My typical nom de plume has relied on a name gifted to me by my birth mother and listed on my first, later-sealed birth certificate. But, for reasons that I detailed in a recent post, I have finally relinquished my claim on that name. I now realize that it was simply a placeholder, no more. And so it is time to move on. But I am fairly stumped as to how.
At the end of Cheryl’s book, she explains how she came to have the unusual surname of “Strayed,” and the story is both simple and mind-blowing. Simple, because she just picked it. Mind-blowing because she picked it not because it sounded good or reminded her of someone she’d once loved or was a distant family name, but because it was descriptive of who she is. She decided that she needed a new name to go along with a new beginning, and she sought one that best described the essence of who she was and is. And, because she is someone who has struggled to stay on a designated path (even one of her own choosing), she picked the fabulously abundant “Strayed.”
Which made me wonder … if I were to do the same exercise, what name would I pick? What combination of letters would produce a meaning that best reflects and captures the choices I’ve made, the roads I’ve taken, the mistakes I’ve pushed through? For the better part of a day, the question rolled around in my brain, tantalizing me. My imagination alighted on various words before discarding them — Attempted, Gave, Found, Sought, Wondered, Persevered. All were good in their own way, but none felt exactly right.
And then I found it. My descriptive surname a la Cheryl Strayed.
It is Hoped.
The only constant in my life has been my hope. I think it has both held me up and caught me from beneath more times than I could possibly count. It is, most definitely, what I have done most and what I expect I will always do. While this discovery does not solve my question of what surname I shall use for my upcoming book, it was a satisfying and insightful exercise.
So now I ask you, what would your word be? What mingling of letters would you use to tell the world your story in one word? Feel free to share it here or keep it to yourself. Be sure to look forward, as well as back. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what meanings others might attach to the name. Your meaning is what matters.
And whatever your word, whatever its genesis or cause, I wish you a self-aware and mindful 2014, constant with peace, serenity, and love. And, of course, hope.