Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The story of a name

I was named after my step-mother, Amy.

My parents lived in Alaska, where they were married for about 7 years. After having my sister and myself (I guess he always loved the name Amy), their marriage fell apart and he moved back to his hometown in California. He rekindled his romance with Amy, and soon they were married. By then, Amy had already had three children. My father ended adopting her youngest daughter.  Eventually the two had a child of their own, my half brother Jimmy.

As a young girl, as soon as I was able to travel on my own (7 or 8),  I would go down and visit them each summer.  With two Amys in the house, sometimes we had to differentiate between the two by designating "Big Amy" and "Little Amy". Big Amy never liked that. She didn't like much about sharing our name, nor did she like my sister or me.

My dad worked during the day, and my step-mom was a night shift nurse, so she would sleep most of the day. When she wasn't sleeping, she was in her room with the door shut, reading or watching TV. She'd typically come out at some point, sternly order me to do a chore, and then retreat back into her room until it was time to leave for work.  The relief of her daunting presence was bliss. When my dad would come home in the evenings, we might go together to play tennis at the college, or work on the yard, or just talk around the dinner table. During the times when my step mother was still there for dinnertime or on weekends, she would warm up, defrosted by the presence of her husband. Sometimes she'd appear to approve of me and treat me kindly. I remember one time during a fun evening of laughter and connection, I asked her if I could call her "Mom". She said "no". I think that was the first time I felt expressly rejected by her.

When Jimmy was about 3 years old, I woke up one morning to find the glasses of water I had kept my contacts in overnight had been emptied. When I told my step mom about the missing contacts, she told me that Jimmy had probably drank them, and for the next several days, I was ordered to follow him to the toilet, and dissect his poop to look for my contacts.  I'm not sure why I complied. At this time I was old enough to understand this was completely inappropriate. But I was scared of her, and intimidation can cause people to do things they wouldn't normally do. FYI: never found the contacts.

My visits with my dad lessened over the years, primarily because of my strained and harmful relationship with Amy, but also because as I grew up, I became more aware of the hurtful relationship dynamic that he and I had, and I decided in a move of self preservation, I'd cut ties.

Amy means beloved. It's meaning literally means love. I've clung onto that for the longest time, and rested in that meaning, rather than feeling resentful over the association of someone who has been so hurtful to me. But it feels sour, stale and false now. I've outgrown it.

Willa came into being after a weekend of celebration of a dear friend's birthday. There were two Amy W.s, so I decided to go by what I had started to nickname myself, Willa. I think it's a play off of the name I loved growing up, Willow. And now it's a little bit of a play off of my last name, Wilbanks. I started this blog as Willa, years ago. I desired a fresh start, of my own creation. Little of this, little of that.  All ME. I adore that I have friends who have called me by Willa since that weekend. I've been a little shy about using it very much until recently.

The more I use Willa, the more free I feel. I don't feel the connection to Big Amy, and that feels like a very big weight off of my emotional shoulders.

I feel the same about my maiden name. I don't desire the connection of using my father's last name, it feels like nothing but painful memories. The burden of a sad history.

As both of my previous last names were my husband's, and my second divorce will be finalized soon, I find myself at a little crossroads of sorts. Create my own new last name, or adopt one.

To be honest, on our first date when Dan first told me his last name, I was a little envious. What a badass name! In the past 10 months as I've gotten to know Dan and who he is, I feel pretty proud at the prospect of having that connection to him and his family. He is one of the most amazing humans I've ever met.

Who knows what will happen in the future, maybe he'll end up being my 40's husband, or maybe he'll be my forever boyfriend. Or forever husband! I know that whatever happens, he will always be a person who inspires me, helps me heal and grow, shows my children and me unconditional love and support, and possibly be my best friend til the end.  His name feels like a worthy back up to Willa.

So, I'm honored to call myself Willa VanDetta.

It's poetic, whimsical, edgy, totally unique, and absolutely me. I'll get it changed legally pretty soon.

It's funny about name loyalty. When I named my children, I expected they'd be those people forever. But, people change, they change their personalities, they change their minds, they change their styles. Sometimes their gender isn't what you thought it was.

When Zach became Liz, I felt a sense of loss. It was hard to use her new name. I was what felt like, in mourning for a period of time. I lost who I thought was my son. My Zachypoo. That was hard. I'm pretty stoked to have another daughter, though, and I love the way she spells it.

Now Sophia is Sethe and Max is wanting to go by Ian (MaximilIAN), which I guess is more practical than Maximum Smash, the name he desired for a while. Although I will say, what an awesome derby name!

When we let ourselves to choose our names, and when we allow our children to have the space to name themselves, there's an ownership and a power that is claimed by the creation of that name. None of us had much of a say when we were born about what our names should be. The concept that a certain name doesn't fit anymore, or it's been grown out of, is pretty radical, but it happens all of the time.

Names are engraved in our hearts. But it's the people that own them that we attach emotions to. Once you let go of that loyalty to the name, it's incredibly freeing. I am proud of myself for choosing a name that makes my body tingle with happiness every time I say it. I am proud of my children for choosing names that are meaningful and powerful for THEM.

I'm just glad I never got their names tattooed on my body. :P

1 comment:

  1. so glad I found ur blog. Have only read this one so far but I can tell that I will enjoy reading more