Ten Thousand Days

What’s In a Name?

December 3, 2019

Photo: Jon Tyson

Day 1925 – Day 1935

It is said that everyone has 3 names: the one that our parents give to us, the one which we are called, and the one that we go out and claim for ourselves.

What is in a name?  A name defines us, in ways that we may not even realize.  I was named Tania after my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother.   I lived among French Canadians with a Russian name that was difficult to pronounce and harder to spell.  And when I visited my cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents for whom Russian was a first language, I was an odd English speaker.

Although an outsider, I was an ultimate insider, too.  My name created a strong maternal bond that was like an anchor in a life where I was tossed around on the seas of parental aspirations, moving from house to house and having to make new friends and to fit in somewhere new, every year or two; sometimes, twice in a single year.  Of my siblings, I became the one who spent serious time researching my heritage and working to live up to the high ideals of the women from whom I came.  My mother passed away just as I was reaching womanhood.  As my translator, her absence left only a thread of connection to my grandmother and to the women who were strong as oxen, who pulled the plough, who were One with the land, and who stood up to the Cossacks, with love, and refused to bear arms. I didn’t know it at the time, but the subtle vibration of my name carried these Spirit Wrestlers with me, as I made my way, alone, into adulthood.

Some believe that we ought to name our children based on qualities that they appear to possess.  Others believe that the greater power is in being named for qualities we lack, in the hopes that we will grow into our names.

I was born on a spiritual path.  Having wandered for awhile, I was given a Sanskrit name by a Guru, and I became known by that name.  My stars are pretty awful, whether interpreted by Western or Vedic astrology.  With those stars, I grew up with a fear that my destiny was to be forsaken by fate.  My spiritual name, however, means “greatly auspicious.”

When I first heard my new name, I hated it.  It was harsh and aggressive, and not at all sweet and feminine sounding.  Although fiercely independent, I was yearning to be like my peers: married and a mother. Projecting feminine charm seemed important to fulfill my yearning.  The Guru had known of my longing, and reassured me that I could pronounce the consonants in their softer form.  And, so I did.  When I traveled to India, I was quickly informed that I was mangling the language with the mispronunciation of my own name, and was requested, politely, to stop.

In South India, I learned, my name also means “a well married woman.”  The Guru, in naming me, had reminded me of the marriage to which I had promised myself, before my birth. It was the unio mystico. Like Hildegard von Bingen or Joan of Arc, I was called to birth something more than offspring.

Hard consonants, mystical union and great auspiciousness; such was my name to bear.

While others have recognized and sought to siphon my spiritual power,  I struggle with a lack of belief in the gifts of my own potential.  Perhaps without my second given name, I would have married some doofus from Match.com, never joined the seminary, never found my spiritual teacher, and would never have been inclined to practice deep gratitude.  When the good favour of the universe precedes you, follows you, surrounds you and calls you by name, how can you fail to feel blessed?

The name that matters most, it is said, is that which we give to ourselves.  I remember playing outdoors as a child and a stranger, who mistakenly thought I was lost, demanded to know my surname.  I was frightened by him, and frightened that I would get in trouble for playing where I shouldn’t have been, so I lied.  I told him my surname was Pink. I became Tania Pink.  Pink was my favourite colour.  It is joyful and full of vitality. Pink is the colour associated with the heart and with the feminine, both symbols of the spiritual path which eventually found me.  While dismissed as passive, pink universally symbolises female sexuality and power.  Before I could intellectually understand it, I had bestowed upon myself the energy of the warrior woman.   When I became a Swami, it was the name that I chose.

Every name I’ve had – the one given by my parents, the one I became known by, and the one that I chose for myself – have been neither frivolous nor always easy to bear.  Each name continues to teach me to be the woman I was born to be and reminds me of the woman I am to become.  I am grateful for each of my names.

In what ways are you grateful for your name(s)?

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