My name is Christian, which is unusual for a woman.
Do you know why you were named what you were named? Does your name have a specific meaning? Were you named after a beloved relative, a favorite musician or work of art?
Only until recently have I understood the deeper meaning of my name.
The origins of names fascinate me and I love the various traditions that come with bestowing a name on a newborn. My favorite one is the Spanish tradition of giving children a name that honors both sides of the family. Whenever I hear a name like José Antonio Gómez Iglesias, I envision a member of a royal court reading the name aloud from a long, ornate scroll taking care to enunciate each name in perfect Spanish. Beautiful. Regal.
I think every name holds a special meaning. My own children were named with great care. I remember researching the etymology of each possible name choice, writing the first and middle name on paper and saying each out aloud until I felt that indisputable click of recognition. "That's the one", I declared for each of my three children. Some say, "what if they don't look like a John or a Mary when they are born?" For those of us that are parents, I believe that our children are named in our hearts far before our minds ever stumble across their verbal or written form.
Names are important to me, but mine wasn't for a long, long time.
To date, I've only met two other women who have spelled their names exactly like mine.
As a young child, I really didn't know how different my name was. At home, I was never given a nickname. I was simply called Christian.
This all changed once I started school.
The new people in my world, children in my class and teachers started asking me if I "was" sure Christian was my name. As if I somehow was mispronouncing my own name! Being a shy girl, this caused me a lot of stress. It was hard enough negotiating the playground, never mind the added burden of having to explain my name. "Isn't that a boy's name?" Sigh. All my life I've heard this.
It wasn't until middle school that I started to really hate my name.
Over and over, I had to correct the mispronounciations of my name. I'd gear up for the inevitable anxiety, whenever I'd have to correct another person, especially an adult about how to say my name. I remember changing dentists and as a nine year old, having to correct the receptionist in the waiting area. She called my name and the following is the exchange that often repeated itself throughout my life.
Me: No, it's Christian.
Adult: Ok, Christi-Ann then. How beautiful!!
Me: No, it's CHRISTIAN.
Adult: Ok Christianna, right this way.
Before long and to save myself the agony, I stopped correcting.
Middle school was the time to start growing up and stop being regarded as a kid. It was also a choice time to blend in as much as possible. I witnessed the milder form of elementary school bullying transform to the meaner, much more sinister form. Kids were teased about everything from their physical appearance to the clothing they wore, to whether or not they were a "slut". Cliques were formed separating the cool kids from the uncool.
The last thing I ever wanted was to stand out in any way.
So, I decided to shorten my name to "Chris" to avoid the whole asserting-myself-to- correct-another thing and also hopefully blend in with all of the other Kristins and Christines that were also called by the truncated version of their name. For a while, this small chance to blend in gave me some peace.
For years I automatically responded to the question "what do you prefer to be called?" with "Chris". It was a habit and a way to hide myself. Where Christian was an introverted, shy person, Chris was the sportier, more outgoing version. If someone called me by my full name, it felt weirdly intimate as only my family and childhood friends call me that.
This all changed when I finally understood the full story of my name.
Like most children, I asked my mother why she decided to name me Christian. She told me that when I was born I looked like an angel and therefore,decided to call me Christian. I accepted this version for a long time until I was a little older. Finally, I was told the full story surrounding my birth.
I was supposed to be adopted.
My mother was unwed at the time of my birth. Not uncommon these days but shameful during that time. My mother did not want to marry my father. She had no interest in being somone's wife let alone someone's mother, especially at the age of 19. So she decided in advance that she would give me up for adoption immediately following my birth.
My new parents were ready to receive me at the hospital, waiting anxiously for my arrival.
This news of course shocked me and took me a long time to process. I discovered that I was born in a Catholic hospital, with nuns surrounding my mother, encouraging and blessing her for being willing to give me up to a loving family. Prayers were said and my mother was ushered into the delivery room.
Once born, the doctor placed me in my mother's arms. She called my grandmother into the room and they both wept.
My mother couldn't give me away. She decided she wouldn't give me away.
With so much religion around her including the various symbols of Christianity combined with the pressure from the nuns to give me up, my mother looked down at me and instead of feeling stress she felt faith in her ability to mother.
She saw the beauty of her faith made manifest in me- her Christian.
She didn't care if it was a boy or girl's name. It was the name that fit her baby. It clicked.
That is the story of my name.
It wasn't until recently that I came to understand the deeper meaning of my name. I felt almost ashamed for hiding behind the blander, shorter version of my name but was still reluctant to give up my "safer" Chris.
More than a year ago, I felt my own faith. I realized that I was exhausted from a long year of personal trials and a general sense of dissallusionment about the path I was on.
I quit my job and began sketching out ideas for my own business. At the time, I had no clue what I would do or how I would do it but I did know one thing for sure:
I would start calling myself Christian again.
Now, I have no problem telling people my full name. It feels fuller and despite it's masculine association, much more feminine than "Chris" ever did. It clicks.
Why is this story important? Because I did what so many people do by trying to mold myself into someone else's idea of what and who I should be. I chose the easier thing because calling attention to myself felt worse than empowering myself. Most introverts will relate to this. As an introvert, I learned to become a master of avoidance. Presentation to given before a room full a people? I'd conveniently lose my voice (for real). Have to teach a workshop? So and so is much better at it. Choose them instead.
Will I see you out later? Sure. But I will talk myself into staying in my hotel room instead.
Protecting ourselves is important but it cannot be at the expense of short changing ourselves.
Changing yourself for the sake of others rarely lasts. I found courage and pride in reclaiming my full name. Understanding my own individual story is an ever evolving process.
It means being willing to let others see me, the real me. It also means giving up the crutch of "easy" in exchange for something much more powerful.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a lot about the significance of Story and the role it plays in our life and business. If you'd like to see what I'm up to with this, you can go here.
Over to you. What are some stories you tell yourself? I'd love to hear.
Christian Marie Herron, is Story Mentor and Creative Consultant for entrepreneurs, thinkers and creatives.