When I was a child, my mother sewed cloth name tags into my clothing for summer camp. Recently, on an overnight trip with my youngest son, I noticed those sturdy name tags from so long ago sewn into the seam of the sleeping bags we took with us, sleeping bags from the 1980s that stand the test of time.
Think about that.
My name, forever stitched into the fabric of something purchased for a few dollars decades ago to keep me warm on summer nights under the stars. A name no longer my own, a faint memory, a fragment of the identity I claim like a puzzle pieced together over the years.
When I remarried five years ago, I deliberated over this question of naming. Who am I? And what does a surname add to that?
I debated eliminating last names altogether, no longer an attachment from a man like ownership, but instead going by first and middle, a sobriquet built over time into an identity.
But that felt strange, too. Who am I? How can I answer that without mentioning other people, places, and influences?
Even my first and middle names were never mine for the choosing. We step into an identity forged for us by others, and inhabit it, or not.
We start our lives on the hopes and dreams of others. And then we either live for their goals, or carve out our own, but in the end, we are stamped with the desires of another from the very start and carry that as a legacy, or a curse, all throughout our lives.
Shaya and I unrolled the sleeping bags onto the bed in the dark sky park guest house. “Look,” he pointed to the name tag bearing my first name, Lynne Cohn, and telling his friends the story. “This was my mom’s sleeping bag when she was a kid.”
He was proud as he said it, as if my legacy was becoming his. And in a way, it was.
We unzipped the heavy satin bags and laid them like blankets over the thin sheets given to us at the guest house. It would be a cold night under the dark starry sky, and though we huddled together under the covers, we needed all the warmth we could heap.
In a way, it’s unbelievable that two sleeping bags have lasted this long. Admittedly, they are used sparingly, so how can they wear thin?
I wish we were the kind of family who frequently took to nature and slept under the moon and stars, firing our food over a lit fire, waking with the dawn and telling stories late into the night until it is dark enough to sleep.
Just today, I suggested we stay at a campground on our way to the beach this summer. My daughter balked at the suggestion, so foreign is it to this family.
We try so hard to give our children everything that in the process, we fill in too many blanks, not allowing them room to roam.
The other day someone said something about the detriment of giving our children all that they ask for. I wonder if that extends to their very names.
I know when my babies were born, I was so eager to pick the perfect names for them, to bestow on them values and beliefs, and connect them to the beautiful memories of people since past.
Shaya is already telling me he hates his full name, Yeshaya. It’s a combination of the Hebrew name for Isaiah and the Hebrew letter Yud, signifying God. I thought it was a nice, spiritual, lofty idea at the time but this many years later, the name doesn’t move me as much as it did the night before I gave it to him. I’ve told him he can legally change it when he is older, but he’s on the fence, since he’s working on an artful signature with the Y.
Eliana can’t stand her middle name, Nechama, and asked that it be left off her bat mitzvah invitations. Nechama is Hebrew for comfort, and it was the Hebrew name for Eliana’s father’s grandmother, who died just months before Eliana’s birth. It means a lot to him that his daughter has this name, this connection, but to Eliana, it’s an ugly mouthful that does not resonate with who she believes she is.
Our children will become whomever they are meant to become whether we want them to or not.
Whether we stand firm, hands on hips, in the middle of the road, daring them to drive around us or plow straight through.
They will be who they must be.
I have to say, I wouldn’t want it any other way.