What's in a Name?
“Hi, this is Anythink Wright Farms. My name is Zesha. How can I help you?”
“Hi...what’s your name?”
“Zesha. With a Z.”
“Oh... Okay. Anyways, I need help with...”
That is a real conversation that I’ve had while at work. It’s just one example of the many variations of conversations that I’ve had about my name. I’m very used to it and I brace myself every time I meet someone new.
Anyone with a “non-traditional” name will know the struggle — that feeling of dread waiting for the substitute teacher to call your name and absolutely butcher it, or maybe worse, not even try to say it at all.
But why does it matter? It’s just a name, right?
I would like to think that names are important. From the spelling to the pronunciation, they’re tied to our identity. Your name isn’t usually something that you choose for yourself, so why should you have to feel judged or ridiculed for it? And in the case that someone did choose their own name, it’s even more important to address them respectfully, and in the way they prefer to be addressed.
As a child, one of my favorite picture books was Kevin Henkes’ “Chrysanthemum.” It tells the story of a mouse named Chrysanthemum. On Chrysanthemum’s first day of school, she is bullied for having a long name and being named after a flower. Chrysanthemum’s parents chose her name with love and care, and always reassure her that it is a perfect name for her, so she loves her name. After being teased about it, she becomes unsure.
In the end, it’s an adult that saves the day. Everyone in Chrysanthemum’s class admires their music teacher, who it turns out, also has a very long name and is named after a flower. She thinks that Chrysanthemum is a wonderful name and is even considering naming her soon-to-be-born-child Chrysanthemum. Soon, everyone in Chrysanthemum’s class wants to be named after a flower.
I didn’t know what drew me to it at the time, but I adored that book. It wasn’t until I read it again as an adult that I realized how much I identified with Chrysanthemum and her story. My parents chose my name with a lot of love and care, and it has emotional meaning for them, but I find it hard to feel the same way because of my experiences at school and even in professional settings.
I’m still working on loving and embracing my name. It continues to be a long journey. After looking at some of the picture books in Anythink’s collection, I realized that there are a lot of books out there about people’s struggles with their names. Here are just a few of my favorites:
- “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes
- “Thao” by Thao Lam
- “That's Not My Name!” By Anoosha Syed
- “The Name Jar” by Choi, Yangsook
- “My Name is a Story” by Ashanti
- “Alma and How She Got Her Name” by Juana Martinez-Neal
Maybe you can be the adult that helps a kiddo with a unique name, or maybe you can heal your inner child if you’ve personally experienced difficulties with your name. Either way, these book recommendations are wonderful tools for teaching people the importance of a name.